Cadbury, The Beaver Who Lacked

Story Background
“Cadbury, The Beaver Who Lacked” was written in 1971, but it was not published during Dick’s lifetime. It first appeared in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 241–256.

Plot Summary
Cadbury a beaver works at saving poker chips by performing different jobs, he often mediates on the three rare blue chips he has saved as well as the others he has earned. His wife Hilda nags him to work more, earning a larger stack of white chips. She accuses him of not have enough drive and energy. He takes some chips and goes to see Dr. Drat on his wife’s orders. To this psychiatrist, he confesses that he hates his wife and dreams of murdering her. He tells Drat about a dream he has where he bought a candy only to find a blue chip in the wrapper. From the session Cadbury only concludes that he should have went to college and became a psychiatrist. At home he got a note from a bird. The note reads only “I love you.” It is from Jane Feckless Foundfully, a woman he never heard of. He returns the letter to Jane, professing his love for her and detailing his marital problems. Later his wife asks who he is writing to and asks him who Jane Feckless Foundfully is. Hilda says that she wrote the original letter. Cadbury is devastated but realizes that there must be a real Ms. Foundfully somewhere so he writes a personal ad asking for someone to discuss political science and theology with. He places the ad in a tin and floats it down the river.

Cadbury gets a response to his letter. Cadbury is hesitate, but the woman—Carol Stickyfoot—assures him that she is not his wife. He asks her to send proof. Cadbury falls in love with Carol Stickyfoot, something he confesses to Dr. Drat during another session. Drat says that Stickyfoot was his previous patient. During work one day, Cadbury receives a package from Carol Stickyfoot with three blue poker chips. He takes it as a sign of her love for him. He goes to Carol’s house, again professing his love for her. He tries to show off his philosophical knowledge by discussing Zen Buddhism. He tells her about his wife, his study but humble home, and recites a poem he wrote for her. He tells her that he wants to leave Hilda because she is preventing him from fully living his life. She accuses him of not fully understanding Zen by trying to find a perfect person. Ms. Stickyfoot becomes a group of people. The first is a “semi-Oriental girl” suggesting comradely love. Another is plump and suggests his mother. A third is an immature girl, suggesting his future daughter. They each explain the terms of their relationship. The first promises only a transitory relationship. The second will stay with him for an “unspecified” period and will keep his house running well as long as he pays. The third tells him that she will never live with him, but look on him from time to time. She accuses him of rape and being a child molester. In turn, the three women begin asking Cadbury for some of his blue poker chips, but compete suggesting they are each a better bargain for him. Cadbury realizes he is fading away in the face of these women. He tries to escape the three women, but cannot. The Asian girl leads them to the beach, but Cadbury stays behind the group. The plump woman tells Cadbury she loves him.

Dick’s epic short story on monogamy, “Cadbury, the Beaver Who Lacked,” was never published during his life, nor was it sent to his editor. We can only suspect that it was a private experiment on the utter alienation in traditional marriage. The story is about a beaver named Bob Cadbury who suffers with an exploitive and nagging wife, Hilda. He does not enjoy his job. He particularly enjoys acquiring blue poker chips (poker chips serve as currency). Of course, as a beaver he worked in construction. His nagging wife judges his value against that of all the other husbands. “Look at you. You really ought to see a psychiatrist. Your stack of white chips is only approximately half that of Ralf, Peter, tom, Bob, Jack, and Earl, all who live and gnaw around here, because you’re so busy woodfathering about your goddam blue chips.” (241) His subsequent visit to the psychiatrist turns into a prolonged cathartic rant about his miserable situation with his wife, but he leaves with no clear answers. On his way home he receives a letter from a woman declaring her love for him. Curious and eager to start an affair to free himself somewhat from his wife. In his reply letter Cadbury writes freely of his anxieties: “The fact is that I love you, too, and am unhappy in my marital relationship with a woman I do not now and actually never really did love, and also am quite dispirited and pessimistic and dissatisfied by my employment.” (244) This turned out to be a confession to his wife, because she was the author of the original letter and wanted simply to trap her husband writing adulterous epistles.

Cadbury then invest himself in his search for an affair by sending a letter in a bottle his attributes and his desire to find someone to discussion religion and philosophy. Had Cadbury been a modern human he might have placed an ad on an Internet dating site (or more recklessly on Cadbury threw himself into the marketplace of love with an open heart and open mind. Notice with me that Cadbury is accepting of any woman who is not his wife. Indeed, throughout the story he declares his love for people simply on the basis that they are not his wife. The woman who replies to his letter in a bottle is Carol Stickyfoot, who happened to be a patient of the same psychiatrist as Cadbury. They happily discuss Zen Buddhism. At the very moment when they agree to try a relationship, Stickyfoot turns into three women. We learn that beauty for Cadbury is the radical unknown the very opposite of the wife (the known and understood).

The three women each give the appropriate level of devotion. The first will be a “neutral companion” who will live with him for “an unspecified period,” the best, perhaps, that a man can expect from a wife. The second woman, the motherly figure, would not live with him but would only check in on his needs. The third declares with resentment that she is bound to him because he needs her, but she makes it clear she might leave at any moment for a “better deal.” (253) Immediately after this is established, they begin to demand prosperity and money from Cadbury. Like Hilda, these women could only become a drain on him. He realizes that all three, no matter their individual differences, desired to life and were indifferent to the source of their survival.

In this story, unpublished during Dick’s life, he maps out the central problem of the family in late capitalism. At best, we can only be familiar strangers to one another. The state raises our children. Our status depends on our job and how effectively we display our success by decorating our small suburban prisons. Yet despite this lack of intimacy between each other (the best wife is the neutral companion; the best mother visits rarely; and the best daughter can only look forward to leaving the bounds of her parental home) we, like Cadbury, have a deep desire to seek out others for companionship. This drives us to singles bars or the Internet. We take risks in the marketplace of love. Many of us still, beyond the statically evidence showing that we are fated for failure, to marry. Dick searched his entire life for a relationship that was not based on the transfer of blue poker chips (in his mind a vulgar prostitution).

Review and background from Philip K. Dick Fan Site.

This story made the list of “lamest” PKD titles.

Dan Savage’s great clip on why Cadbury is like all of us.


About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
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2 Responses to Cadbury, The Beaver Who Lacked

  1. Chip Lambert says:

    Excellent review and analysis – very helpful and insightful.

    I must disagree, however, with some ideological references that crept into it such as it being a critique of “monogamy” or that PKD intends to “map[s] out the central problem of the family in late capitalism.” Contrary to a left-wing bias against many time-honored human institutions, monogamy and capitalism have been far more successful in the establishment of a civil society – and far fewer violent deaths – than say alternatives like Leftist revolutions, re-education camps, purges, and class warfare.

    If anything, an analysis could be made showing a theme more focused than monogamy – call it “misogynistic despair” – where Cadbury resents all women because he believes the entire gender is able to just “be” (“live”) without regard to any empathetic and personal responsibility.

    Of course, PKD’s stories and ideas are multi-faceted, and so there is a significant dose of self-loathing due to Cadbury’s inability to find meaning within himself.

    • tashqueedagg says:

      I think we can agree Dick did not support re-education camps or purges (neither do most anti-capitalists I have come across in my studies…Jack London for instance). That did not mean he supported much of American consumer capitalism that he experienced during his life (“Autofac”,”Piper in the Woods,” etc.). I would suggest he is Marxist in two specific ways: his support for crafting and the intellectual component of labor and he generally accepted a view of alienated labor (I guess we could add the Hegelian-Marxist trope that there is a relationship between the material reality of the world around us and our conceptions of the world). But a Stalinist…no.
      As for marriage. I do not see how you can read his stories such as “Human Is,” “Withered Apples,” “…Doorway” (the one with the clock), and “Out in the Garden” and not think he has some issues with traditional institutional middle class marriage (I used monogamy for short hand, meaning the institutionalization of our relationships through law and social regulation). He definitely believed in what you say….”personal responsibility” and empathy. I just do not think there is much evidence that he though “till death do us part” and a home in Levittown is a good way to get there. I was not trying to suggest he was fan of key parties.

      I am fine with calling Dick an occasional misogynist, even a despairing one.

      Anyway, I will keep your thoughts in mind when I revisit this story in my podcast (although that may be a year or two from now at the pace I am going).

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