Reading reflections in the Bookinglass

An expat with a love of fiction

Posts Tagged ‘animals in history

Animal Agency

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dog and bookJudging by its cover, who else thinks ‘A Dog About Town’ looks like an unforgiveably appalling read? As I was briefly searching the net to see what kind of books have been written from the perspective of animals (for New Year 2010 Book Challenge), I came across this article on academics considering the way animals have been agents in history. I was wondering whether more and more authors will be writing about animals from a way which is not childlike, fanciful or cringe-worthy. Of course I know that this has been achieved, most famously by George Orwell in ‘Animal Farm’. Also what would ‘Life of Pi’ be without the unforgettable interaction between Tiger, Hyena, Zebra, Monkey and boy? These books use animals as clear metaphors for humans behaviour and characteristics, so in effect they can be treated as human characters. In Life of Pi, we are left uncertain whether they were in fact animals at all or just the workings of an unhinged, dehydrated imagination. But neither do I consider the kind of book above as the ‘answer’ to representing animals in books. This is an animal which is personified as subtly as a bowling ball.

In contrast, in ‘Two Caravans’ by Marina Lewycka the dog gets it’s own voice:

‘I AM DOG I RUN I RUN FROM BAD MAN CAGE I HEAR DOGS BARK ANGRY DOGS GROWL ANGRY DOGS BARK THEY WILL FIGHT THEY WILL KILL I SMELL DOG-SWEAT MAN-RAGE MAN OPENS CAGE MAN PULLS COLLAR MEN SIT SMOKE TALK DOGS BARK LIGHT TOO BRIGHT BIG ANGRY DOG SNARLS SHOWS TEETH HAIRS BRISTLE ON HIS BACK HE WILL KILL I AM NOT FIGHTING DOG I AM RUNNING DOG I JUMP I RUN I RUN TWO DAYS I EAT NO MEAT HUNGER PAINS IN BELLY MAKE ME MAD I FEEL HUNGER I FEEL FEAR I RUN I RUN I AM DOG’

Lewycka creates a dog as a key character in the story with agency which makes the dog different from either the animals in Animal Farm or in Life of Pi. Lewycka has been criticised for giving Dog a voice,

‘She risks our forbearance giving voice to a mongrel dog, whose thoughts, printed in all-capitalized text, are as welcome as a hairball.’

Why so cynical? I don’t believe Lewycka created Dog as a doting pet-owner who want to make their pet more human, simply there to make others laugh or Aw. Dog is a character, and without a voice, his actions in the last few chapters would be seen as a coincidence or, tediously, a metaphor for some kind of human action. As it is, Dog is a DOG and his actions, not of any human, save the day.

Interaction between humans and animals is a powerful force across cultures and times, animals have affected human lives as much as we have affected theirs. We have been caught up too much in establishing why animals are so different to make us feel superior. The last line of this article sticks with me:

“…we can learn more about humans by understanding what they claimed they were not: animals.”

Does anyone else have any examples of animals in books (except Children’s) which are not one big extended metaphor or personified beyond having a voice?

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