“There Was an Old Lady” retells the fantastical account of an elderly woman who swallows various animals in an ever-increasingly bizarre and grotesque display of ingurgitation. The following brief analysis will examine this nursery rhyme for critical thematic elements and possible problematic components.
The song opens as follows:
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly I don’t know why she swallowed a fly — perhaps she’ll die!
One should note the relative banality of the opening statement: While swallowing a fly is somewhat uncommon and an unpleasant experience, it is almost certainly not fatal. The utter confusion of the author is expressed, as he or she seems to believe that the woman must have swallowed the insect on purpose. Much more likely is that she did so by accident. Nevertheless, the author “blames the victim” in an attempt to explain the described event, and then seems to revel in the possibility that she may not survive the incident. Whereas most observers would spend the time helping the old lady, performing first aid techniques if necessary, and calling the paramedics if serious, the author instead decides to retell the event with no indication that any help was given. As can be seen in the following stanzas, the woman is left to correct the problem herself.Continue Reading