2. Animal death depicted in The Pioneers

The purpose of animal death at the end of The Pioneers does not have any purpose besides killing pigeons so they don’t eat the wheat crops. The white settlers consider them pests and find it to be an exhilarating sport to senselessly shoot the pigeons. I think the emotions this act of slaughter evokes in the reader is reflected in the reaction of Leather-Stocking when he says, “It’s wicked to be shooting into flocks in this wasty manner” (251). The text refers to the pigeons as “victims” (250, 251) and the white settlers as “persecutors” of the pigeons (254), setting the stage for evoking compassion for the pigeons from the reader. Benjamin gravely relates at the end of the text that “he thought they killed nearly as many pigeons on that day, as there were Frenchmen destroyed on the memorable occasion of Rodney’s victory” (255). The field of dead pigeons here is being depicted as a battlefield which evokes emotions of war, and for anyone who has truly experienced war, the experience is truly traumatizing. The attitudes represented by the depiction of the pigeons’ deaths in the text are attitudes of excitement and victory from many of the men that took part in the slaughter such as Richard. Judge Temple and Benjamin showed a sense of remorse for the slaughter, feeling that it was wrong to find joy in even a pigeon’s misery. This event is used to reveal the human quality of savage cruelty, but it is also condemned by the hunter, Leather-Stocking, who sees that it is not right to senselessly kill so many pigeons. I’m not so sure that the text is promoting this behavior in any way, but rather trying to show the reader that heartless actions such as this one are wrong and can eat away at the conscience of those who partake in such actions as we see with Judge Temple and Benjamin.

The death of these animals is related to issues of identity. The animal deaths are related to the identity issue of “class” because the white settlers think that a person is of a higher social class if they are farmers, and these white settlers find justice in killing these birds because they don’t want to replant the wheat crops that the birds eat. The hunter is considered to be in a lower social class and he thinks it’s wrong to kill more birds than is necessary for your survival and cut down the trees that they live in. The identity issue of “gender” in regards to killing animals is also explored in the text. The Judge’s daughter is depicted as “unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck,” portraying women as against killing animals (7). Men, on the other hand, are mostly depicted as rejoicing in the death of animals. Depending on a man’s “social class,” however, he may have different views on what is a justified killing of an animal. Although a person’s social class affects how they will react to an animal’s death, the deaths of the pigeons, and the remorseful reactions of many of those involved, validates the commonality of experience shared by humans and nonhuman entities alike. Their remorseful reaction validates that no matter what species you are, every living creature deserves the chance to live and not be slaughtered for the selfish reasons of any one species.

Cooper, James F. “Ch. 1, 21, 22.” The Pioneers. Dodd, Mead &, 1958. 1-16, 234-255. Print.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bharta1 on September 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    There are also religious implications to the gender and class distinctions. As the men are literally at war with the pigeons and nature by extension, using any kind of tool or weapon to subdue the enemy, war-faring vernacular permeates the story. The Judge, a name that speaks for itself, not only with religious but also empirical implications, calls the mountains “citadel” where it had “dominion” and after a “siege” there was a “victory” (Cooper 241). There is a two-fold meaning, 1. Men are the ones who fight, woman cast man out of Eden with original sin, Eve accepts the apple and gives it to Adam, and now has no place in nature and can only muster a half-hearted ambivalence to it. This is a result of their old world view of wilderness that is rooted deeply in Judeo-Christian influences; primarily depicting nature as evil or as a threat, and reiterates the patriarchal dominance of God over earth. Also the farmers are doing their ‘work’ as God intended. 2. The battle against the birds can also be used as an allegory for Garrard’s distinction of when humanity took on the role of master and earth the subordinate, “Agriculture becomes both the cause and the symptom of an ancient alienation from the earth that monotheistic religion and modern science then completed” (Garrard 60). We have the scientific and rational man or Rationalism/Cultivation/Agro-centricity pitted against the weak and irrational feminine archetype in Mother Nature and woman.

    Cooper, James F. The Pioneers. Dodd, Mead &, 1958. 1-16, 234-255. Print
    Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

  2. Posted by bhough on September 13, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    I agree with your view that the killing of animals has gender implications in Cooper’s text. I found it interesting that throughout the text there were hints of men in particular viewing killing as a game, something enjoyable and fun. I saw it especially on page 9 of “The Pioneers,” when Natty describes the days when “I shot thirteen deer… standing in the door of my own hut!” This furthers your points made about the scene with the slaughter of the pigeons; throughout Cooper’s text there are serious implications that men in particular do not feel for the animals they kill, which in turn makes a statement about Cooper’s feelings towards htose people.

    Cooper, James F. The Pioneers. Dodd, Mead &, 1958. 1-16, 234-255. Print.

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