Hypertext and The Babysitter

Hypertext is an evolution of the traditional text found in books. Today it compliments print-based media, but it is heading in a direction where it may eventually become the most popular way to read any sort of text. Hypertext is more dynamic than traditional text because of how links are incorporated. An author may use links to simulate moving onto another page similarly to a print-based linear story, but many authors have taken advantage of links by making a non-linear or multi-linear story. I like these sorts of stories because the user can experiment with text and follow their own path. This is like why I enjoy video games so much. Sure, there could be just one ending, but how you got there may vary among people. The Babysitter by Robert Coover is a story that is a bit ahead of its time. It has the content that one may find in a modern hypertext story, but it is all mashed together and is still formatted similarly to a print-based story. I had to read the first few pages a few times because I was so confused. It jumps around so suddenly across different settings and potential outcomes. The reader follows the disaster the babysitter faces at home as well as what happens outside the home with the parents. A hypertext platform we have today like Twine would be a much better format for this.

“Most authors of the hypertext fiction started writing in the new media not only to explore the affordances of the digital, but also with awareness of the position of literature with in a broader and rapidly shifting media ecology.”


The Babysitter & Hypertext Literature


With it’s only-semi-linear nature and multiple perspectives occuring at once, The Babysitter by Robert Coover truly set the stage for hypertext fiction. While the story itself was very disturbing, the techniques used to craft it were impressive, and a clear influence on hypertext fiction. While not hypertext fiction itself, it does include many characteristics of hypertext fiction, such as:

fragmented text, the use of associative logic, alternative narrative structures, […] [and] complications of character development and chronology. (Rettburg, 68)

While it is lacking in interactivity, the multiple perspectives, the blending of what’s really happening and what is only being imagined, as well as the shaky time structure (as I mentioned above, I’d consider it semi-linear: there is a time span, but within hour or half-hour blocks, time seem to move forward then loop back and start again, giving the impression both of many plot points occuring at once as well as some never actually happening at all) makes this a clear precursor to interactive e-literature.

On a personal note, while I didn’t enjoy the plot per se (it was very disturbing) I enjoyed the way that The Babysitter was written. The Babysitter seems to challenge readers to second guess what we often take for granted, particularly in regards to the intentions of others. The unreliable narrators and unclear delineation between imagination and reality forces the reader to read carefully or else get tripped up. While in this case the events were primarily imagined, it is easy to see how this could become a piece of interactive fiction where the choices of the reader lead to one or more of the imagined situations becoming real. I did try and read it out of order (I chose various segments to read in random order, while still staying within the linear progression of the story) but as it is now I think you really need all the perspectives to make it a cohesive story. I think you could switch the order slightly of the story’s fragments, but you would definitely need to read all of them to follow what’s happening (as opposed to a ‘choose your own adventure’ style story, where threads of plot can theoretically be left unread without causing confusion, etc, depending on your choices).

HyperText in the Post-Postmodern World

The focus of this weeks reading was on the ever present media of HyperText. It permeates our lives and enables usages that people in previous decades could have only dreamed. Of course it would have an effect on literature.

Postmodernism arose in the mid 1900’s and lasted, arguably, until approximately the end of the 20th century, which roughly correlates with the onset of the digital age and the ascendancy of the World Wide Web. In the book Electronic Literacy, by Scott Rettberg, we find that the pioneers of early HyperText literature were deeply rooted in the scholarly analysis of major players in the postmodern literature, such as Thomas Pynchon. Viewing the themes that carried over into their work, notably a willingness to play and subvert established precepts in literature, such as the role of the author, the narrative structure, and the base assumptions inherent to the form of media itself, it is easy to say that those early works of electronic literature were children of postmodern literature.

In particular we can look at Robert Coover’s The Babysitter, an example of postermodern literature that paves the way for later HyperText literature. In The Babysitter, Coover weaves an acid trip of a tale toys with perception, chronology, the reliability of the narrator, and the very expectations we have from a story. Each paragraph long chunk of text is isolated from the rest, visually, by a unique marker, taking the shape of an asterisk amidst a set of quotation marks, that cues the reader in that there is a greater degree of separation than a typical line break that we’d see in other works. Each paragraph seems to be a piece of the story, but stolen from some alternate timeline, jumping from one location to another, one character’s perspective to another, sometimes blending seamlessly between the inner thoughts and realities of a character and other times completely contradicting the events of other paragraphs. The result is a possibility storm, rapid fire imagery of causation stemming from the most minute of decisions. The ludicrous scene of a middle-age woman being shoved back into her butter lubricated-girdle is juxtaposed ironically but poignantly with scenes of rape as clothing is forcibly added in the former and removed in the latter, only to contrasted again with the seemingly innocent act of the babysitter changing the clothes of her wards. The other thus not only connects the story fragments chronologically, but ties them together thematically. This “stream of consciousness” flow between different scenes results in a poetic feel, the sharp transitions allowing for sharp effect, where the story doesn’t always feel literal, but still fraught with meaning.

Of course, all this is done with words on paper. The order of the fragments is stationary, and the reader, even as their brain is racing to piece together the story, is ultimately left in a passive role to be fed what the author gives them and find what meaning they can. What would the story have been like if Coover had made is creation in HyperText? The jumping between different timelines and simultaneous events at multiple locations could lend itself well to the medium, but would the effect be the same? Is the disorientation, the lack of control in the reader essential to the story? What extra level could be attained by adding multi-media, imagery, sound to add to the immersion of the experience? I think these were the sort of questions that drove HyperText authors to carry the same playfulness, the willingness to play with their tools and their medium into the digital age. Postermodernism gave us the permission leave behind traditional norms of literature, to challenge its limitations and create something new, and we’re still just seeing the beginning.

Hypertext and The Babysitter

Reading “The Babysitter” is a comparable experience to reading a Choose Your Own Adventure Book like a regular book. Hypertext Fiction however, differs from a Choose Your Own Adventure book, in the sense that it’s not trying to tell one linear story in specific places of the text but rather telling multiple stories within the one singular piece. You get different pieces of differing stories all related to the same subject. “The Babysitter” does this extremely well. By mixing slightly comical, dramatic and most of the time very dark storylines all together, it sets the reader loose on a literary rollercoaster that whips around wildly and changes speed at unexpected times. This leads to a confusing experience overall with each separate section resembling less of a puzzle piece and more of a loose magazine clipping. This piece could have a huge influence on the hypertext fictions written after it, not only because of its use of form but because of the overall weight of its subject matter. The intense happenings, both good and bad, within the story are what keep the reader engaged and willing to tangle with the multiple storylines. The topic must be great enough, to be able to generate multiple different outcomes of the same emotional caliber. For example a topic I see working in this format is a story of being lost or stranded. There is a lot emotion that can be connected to the feeling of being lost and isolated that would resonate with lots of readers. The separate sections could contrast the feelings of being hopelessly lost with the feeling of being saved much like “The Babysitter” contrasted innocence and goodness with evil and greed. I would like to read another piece in this form with different subject matter.

Hypertext Fiction and a look at The Babysitter

In reading the chapter this week I enjoyed reading the different approaches taken by authors to produce hypertext. Though, in reading “The Babysitter” I found it a little challenging in following the story.

It could be that is the author’s intention, to make it jarring so the reader is unsure and reads on to figure out the conclusion.
However, through the use of these “fragmented narratives,” The Babysitter is able to take the reader on not just one linear story, but instead the multiple paths of different characters(Rettberg, 84).

The author doesn’t give any instructions in reading the short story, in contrast to something like a choose your own adventure, which leads to a specific piece to make the story flow in a way. In reading it paragraph by paragraph, it jumps to another story, or a new character quite frequently.

In this way, it follows a pattern that Rettberg talks about in the more recent uses of hypertext. I would say Coover’s story is similar to some of Moulthrop’s work discussed in the book. Moulthrop’s pieces dealt with “the conflict between conventions of reading fiction and the fragmentary nature of attention online”(Rettberg, 76). I feel The Babysitter is much like this, with the constant switch in redirecting the reader’s attention to a new plot line, each one seems to get darker than the last.

Personally, I can’t say I enjoyed The Babysitter. I didn’t like the way the author sexualized most everything and everyone in the story.
Still, I’m interested in reading more hypertext literature. Possibly some of the ones Rettberg talked about in the chapter. There were some really interesting plots that I think fit well with the format of hypertext.

The Babysitter and Hypertext Fiction

The Babysitter by Robert Coover is definitely an interesting story to say the least. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I completely understood what was happening the majority of the time throughout this. At some points in the story, it seemed like things weren’t actually happening, like they were all a part of some dream sequence or imagination, yet in other parts it all seemed very real. At the same time, the reader has to infer which perspective the section is in everytime it shifts, since it doesn’t tell you. I read through it one time, just to get a basic understanding of it, and then I read through it again trying to piece it together in a way that makes sense but still, it left me feeling annoyed and at the same time, wanting more. From what I could comprehend, the story has 3 “main” perspectives. 1.) The parents Mr. and Mrs. Tucker, 2.) the Babysitter (I’m not sure what her name is), and the Tucker children, 3.) and the babysitter’s boyfriend Jack, and his friend Mark. Mr. Tucker, Jack and Mark, and Jimmy the oldest Tucker child, are all in some way infatuated with the babysitter. Jimmy is referred to multiple times as wanting to spank her, as well as trying to catch and spy on her naked such as when she’s getting into the bath Mr. Tucker is (I think?) having some sort of fantasies about the babysitter and the things he wishes to do with her. While Mark and Jack both end up at the house with her trying to engage in sexual activities with her, and eventually trying to force themselves on her.

Although this isn’t my type of literature, and I was definitely feeling more frustrated than anything, I do understand why The Babysitter was an important piece that paved the way for current hypertext fiction. There is definitely some type of spiderweb type narrative going on in the story, but the reason it becomes meddled and confusing is there’s not really a way to navigate through it. With Twine, the reader is able to “choose their own path” by selecting different options to continue the story. With no option like this in The Babysitter, the reader is basically forced through every possible outcome of the story. Although this isn’t the best way to go through a text like this, it was still a very good model for later texts to build off of. It introduced the idea that a story could have multiple paths to go down, and it’s based on how can be based off of the reader’s decisions. The premise of the story is good, it just lacks the “Electronic Literature” aspect it needs. In other words, when Robert Coover was creating this story, he was just lacking the technology he needed to truly make it work. If this story was remade with twine or something similar, I’m sure it would be understood much better, with the added bonus that the reader would actually get to “choose” the outcome of the story. Which would actually be great because I’m interested to know how the story (stories?) are actually supposed to go!


Electronic Literature by Scott Rettberg
The Babysitter by Robert Coover

Hypertext Fiction and “The Babysitter”

During the reading of Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter” I couldn’t help but feel just a little confused to the fact that So many things where happening at once I couldn’t necessarily keep track of who’s doing what. I felt like this should be a way not to use Hypertext Fiction because even though this opens up the story to more possibilities instead of just a singular, linear path, to me, I just could not follow so parts of the story.

The definition of Hypertext Fiction, to me, is a great way to express a much broader and open storytelling experience for all of the readers by giving different conclusions just by the smallest decisions. Like in Scott Rettberg’s book “Electronic Literature”

“The development of hypertext fiction include a shift away from linear storytelling toward a multi-threaded approach”.

I still believe that this is Hypertext Fiction but it’s Hypertext Fiction that is still being developed, that is still trying to go into a different way than linear storytelling and instead gives us a lot of different perspectives that contributed to the ending in one way or another.

In conclusion, “The Babysitter” really does contributed well to the Hypertext Fiction category because, even if it is a little bit confusing at first, it still has those branching paths that make you think about what could possibly happen next.


The Babysitter by Robert Coover

Electronic Literature by Scott Rettberg

“Fiction of Possibilities”

Initially when I read the first couple of paragraphs in “The Babysitter” I didn’t expect the story to take the disturbing turns that it did.

The story appears to be about a babysitter who is watching Mr. and Mrs. Tucker’s little ones while they are off at a party. The babysitter at first appears to have a pretty typical night, she takes care of the young kids who are being as rowdy as could be expected from children their age.

In this story, there are a few characters outside of the babysitter who are important. Mr. Tucker is the father of the children, and is incredibly attracted to the babysitter, in certain paths, he ends up putting himself on her. Mrs. Tucker, is the mother of the children, and appears to be somewhat suspicious of Mr. Tucker and also incredibly unhappy as indicated on page 4.

Then there is Mark and Jack, who have plans to rape the babysitter. The easiest way to describe the story is that the babysitter has the worst night imaginable.

Also, while the story is called “The Babysitter” it does not solely focus on the babysitter, but rather it gives incredible attention to all of the characters, which appears to be influenced from modernist writing. (Rettberg 56)

The story is a bit hard to follow on the PDF but the strong writing helps, “Although chronological progression takes place in the story, as we move from 7:40 p.m. into the late hours of the night, the distinction between objective reality and fantasy falls away as we read the fragments, and every possibility has equal opportunity to be visited.” (Rettberg 58)

Coover’s approach through fragmentation may at first seem to be an annoyance as the reader has to pay incredible attention to what is happening, but I view it as a strength of the story. The fragmentation encourages the reader to fully involve themselves by looking at each fragment and looking at which match together and which don’t. It felt like I was piecing together the story, and just when I thought I had it pieced together, there are additional fragments that lead to other paths in the story as certain fragments have fragments that can go into different directions.

While reading the story, I made highlights as a way to indicate fragments that I was piecing together. I only wish that the story wasn’t on a PDF file so I could actually move the fragments around.

This “fiction of possibilities” allows for a level of engagement that cannot be achieved in traditional storytelling. In a way, it allows the reader in a limited capacity, to be the author of their own narrative.

Coover’s influence can be seen clearly in hypertext fiction, which have experimented and explored the idea of multilinearity for many years. An example can be seen with the story of Uncle Roger by Judy Malloy which contained seventy-five lexia, which was in a database structure. (Rettberg 69)


Electronic Literature by Scott Rettberg

“The Babysitter” by Robert Coover

The Babysitter

In reading “The Babysitter” I am mostly confused I had a really hard time following the narrative as a whole and figuring out what perspective it was taking. The story was written with the intent to blur reality and it does that very well, I would say personally to well since I was lost most of the time. Nevertheless, I was struck with how well It would make a digital “choose-your-own-adventure” style narrative. If the babysitter had some other que to let the readers know what perspective, they were reading then it would be easier to follow along and really engage in the narrative. While this might have taken away from what writer Robert Coover wanted it would have allowed some of his readers to better engage in the story overall. My personal opinion aside it is interesting to see the impact and change over the years from works like “The Babysitter” to things like “Those we love Alive” by Porpentine while The Babysitter is multinarrative it is really only the building blocks of what we have today, as discussed in Electronic Literature written by Scott Rettberg. The effect of multilinearity is so prevalent in todays society it is rather remarkable. The use of how hypertext and links are shared and used in daily life is second nature now. With the internet and web-sharing you would be hard pressed to go a day without interacting with hypertext or a multilinear platform built off of the foundations of The Babysitter and works like it.



Electronic Literature written by Scott Rettberg


Robert Coover The Babysitter


Those we love Alive” by Porpentine



The Babysitter – January 25, 2019

Although 1969 provided no technical advantage for Robert Coover to create a piece of hyptertext fiction, he instead wrote what would essentially be the inspiration for hypertext fiction by forcing the reader to use as little information as possible to string together a coherent story.

In his piece “The Babysitter” a mundane plot of a babysitter washing the kids and putting them to sleep takes multiple perspectives in a non-chronological order. However, the lack of chronology is not what is confusing and captivating to the reader. What catches the reader’s attention is the fact that each perspective of the story includes that person’s imagined story of how the rest of the night unfolds. The babysitter’s boyfriend and his friend imagine raping her or seducing her, the babysitter imagines accidentally killing the baby, the father of the children imagines cheating on his wife, etc. These are just some examples of the various plot lines in the story, and some of the characters even create multiple stories within their minds about what actually happens. As a result of this mixing pot of plot lines, the story seems to constantly be correcting or contradicting itself, further adding to the confusion and noise that the short story creates.

This piece was very important for hypertext fiction, which is, at its very basic structure, a mixture of technology with writing to add to the story in a way that an analog piece of writing could not do. A common feature of hypertext fiction is interactivity, meaning that the story can branch off into multiple paths, or further immerse the reader by putting them into the story, and a countless amount of other techniques. In his novel Electronic Literature, Scott Rettberg states that “hypertext fiction may not have swayed the culture to accepting nonlinear storytelling on the computer and the network as a successor to printed books, but it has served as a foundation for many new types of literary work in digital media” (Rettberg, 86). An overall criminally overlooked genre of writing, hypertext fiction has nonetheless proved influential for postmordern writing. Nevertheless, hypertext fiction’s influence will likely continue to appear in new writing, both digital and analog, but it all starts with “The Babysitter”.

Blog 2 :Hypertext Fiction

While I did enjoy reading Coover’s The Babysitter much more than Taroko Gorge, The Babysitter leaves me wanting something more when it comes to being able to comprehend a story or at least get a grasp of what it is trying to teach me. The story goes back and forth between Harry and Dolly Tucker, the young female babysitter(Jeannie?) with the two children Jimmy and Bitsy, and her boyfriend Jack who is hanging with his friend Mark. Already we have three narrative paths to follow (and possibly a fourth?).

Good luck keeping track of what’s what.

At first, I felt that I was somewhat able to follow what was happening in the story. Mr. Harry Tucker fantasizes about doing sexual activities with their babysitter Jeannie while his wife seems slightly suspicious of him. Jeannie’s boyfriend Jack wants to go further with her but is too timid to do so so he also fantasizes about her while his friend, Mark, tries to talk him into seeing her with him. And then there’s Jimmy who seems to have an odd fascination with the lovely babysitter as well.

What even…

This story jumps all over the place more and more the farther you read into it. For example, on page ten, the story jumps from Mr. Tucker trying to come up with an excuse t so that he can “run over” to the house, Mark and Jack trying to catch a glimpse outside of the frosted bathroom window, Jeannies’ 8:30 television program, an awkward tub scene between Jeannie and Jimmy(?), Mark and Jack trying to rape Jeannie, and then Mr. Tucker possibly fantasizing about Jeannie in a naughty way. It is so hard to appreciate the little details and descriptions the author has put into this piece when it is so agonizing to try and make sense of this story!

It is extremely challenging to tell whether everything that is happening is real, fake or a mixture of both. Despite these problems, we can connect this story and its spider web of a layout to another hypertext fiction. In Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, A Story, as mentioned in Rettberg’s Electronic Literature, most readers interpret the piece as something that:

“Forces the reader through detours without coming to a clear end “(Rettberg, 70-71)

We see this in The Babysitter. Sometimes she’s getting raped, other times she’s getting murdered, offered a ride home, questionable handling of a little boy’s penis, spanking someone, teasing Mr. Tucker, playing with herself or her boyfriend. The story is almost like a messed up version of “Choose Your Own Adventure” except the reader doesn’t get to choose. They are forced down these various paths until the end of the story. Then they have a choice as to how they think the story went.

Dylan Niehaus – The Babysitter

The Babysitter by Robert Coover is an intriguing piece of literature that, while innovative and interesting, is too confusing and fragmented for me to fully enjoy. The story is written in such a way that it is just a series of events separated physically on the page by paragraphs. Each event seems to switch from one location and set of characters to the next. Based on the reading and other quick research I performed to learn about this piece of electronic literature, the point of The Babysitter is to create a story in which the reader is unsure whether or not the events are either reality or part of a fantasy within the character’s minds. But when I read the story, instead of finding myself guessing whether or not what was happening was fantasy or reality, I just found myself confused and frustrated trying to figure out what was going on in the story. Despite my frustration with this piece of literature, I can definitely respect it for the groundwork that it laid out for future pieces of electronic literature that fall into the category of hypertext fiction. The way in which the story involves the reader in multiple narratives is interesting as each paragraph is an event taking place in a different location with different characters. This strategy of listing out separate events instead of writing a traditional flowing narrative laid out the groundworks for future pieces of hypertext fiction. The Babysitter really cemented the idea of creating a story that can be seen in different ways by the reader, which was quite a feat considering that it was created before electronic literature was a recognized medium. Future writers of hypertext fiction could look back on The Babysitter and utilize present technology to create their own stories with branching narratives by providing different hypertext links, giving the reader more control over what happens in the story. Instead of being a story that can have different meanings to the reader just by the way the story is written, hypertext fiction is now able to give the reader a direct way to shape their “own” story.