Yesterday, I discovered my preschooler playing Purim with the minifigs. I had already assembled a few characters before I got distracted in the kitchen. I came back to find him with a doll in hand.
“Who’s this?” he asks, “and why does she look so mad?”
It’s Vashti. I remind him that she was fired as queen. Although he finally gets that “fired” does not involve actual flame, the word still feels violent, and it worries him.
“Well, maybe she didn’t like being queen,” he said. “Maybe she’s much happier now she’s not queen.” He took off her hair, gripped her face, and spun her head around.
Every female minifig in our recently acquired “Education: Community Minifigure” set has a Janus-like double face. One side is printed with an expression of cheerful expectation, the other side, with sneering displeasure. It’s like Janus plus Greek comedy/tragedy masks plus Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke. I should note that both faces feature full lips and eyeliner and are punctuated by a beauty-mark, that melanocytic standby of the Hollywood seductress.*
In contrast, the male minifig heads are all single-sided, printed with a bland and featureless smile. Is this a corporate comment on gender? If so, why must it exhibit itself in, of all things, the wholesome and otherwise egalitarian “Education” product line? I’m already ticked off about Lego’s new “girl” theme introduced in January (hmmmm. Janus, January…).
Anyway, Vashti—with a twist of her wee head—is happy. And, she’s now holding a walkie-talkie (see below). When my kid holds a walkie-talkie, he’s happy, so it makes sense that Vashti, liberated from a job she didn’t want, is even happier with a walkie-talkie.
I rather like this new interpretation of Vashti. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, said the Purim story can be read as farce. It was never meant to be taken literally. The Vashti / Esther duality is a “rival wife” type scene: bad wife, good wife. My Lego female head is a handy little embodiment of this duality. If, of course, we accept for the purposes of argument that a good wife wears a smile, and a bad wife the sneering frown.
I love that my kid feels the child-like freedom to change a story. Me, I have to work to remember that I might be able to change a story, even when it is my own.
I also love that he feels the very Jewish freedom to question a text. That’s what we do, that’s our tradition. He is lucky to be born into it. I wasn’t, but grad school helped, as does living in a house with three experts in argumentation and creative exegesis.
My own LEGO interpretations are described below. One must make choices when outfitting Purim spiels, even with minifigs:
Vashti: a low-cut, lace-up bodice, red hair (a “bad” color since way before Judas Iscariot and Anne of Green Gables)
Haman: a mustachioed frown and tri-corned hat
Mordechai: a venerable beard and Jewy cap (like Perchik from Fiddler)
King Ahasuerus: a vacuous smile, crown and long sceptre (yep, that long sceptre he extends to Esther rather supports the sex farce idea)
Esther: dark hair (to play to stereotype), modest yet feminine gown
The banquet table is set with a crab because the palace kitchen doesn’t keep kosher. Which brings up another theme in the Book of Esther: “the danger of life in the diaspora.” Esther went vegan to avoid eating treyf.**
We worked the horse in there somewhere. Have you noticed the Mordechai/ Haman horse always seems to be white? I’m looking at the book of Esther in my JPS Hebrew/English Tanakh, right this minute, and I don’t see any mention of color. I chalk this up to color stereotype: white is good, and also to centuries of Christian art with all that prophetic white horse stuff.
*melanocytic may or may not be an accurate adjectival form of beauty mark/mole/compound nevus, but it sure sounds all medical and smart.
**I’m looking for the prooftext for this alleged vegetarianism. One source tells me it’s somewhere in Talmud Bavli (Megilla 10b – 17a), but I can’t find it yet. I know Esther is supposed to be a Rabbinic ideal: she keeps kosher, she’s gorgeous, she uses the mikveh (in a nonJewish palace?). Oh, and she saves her people.