Dead animals in A Tour on the Prairies

       The death of the animal depicted in “A Tour on the Prairies” seems to be completely for sport. The narrator does not demonstrate or mention a need to kill meat for the purpose of survival. Shooting the buffalo was done without much care or emotion on the part of the narrator. He demonstrates his lack of connection with nature and the world around him by wasting the valuable resources around him.
       The death of the animal, specifically the reaction of the narrator, evokes anger in the reader. The narrator shot down an animal with no reason besides thrills. He goes on to describe the helpless buffalo he had wounded with no real need and the fact that it will lay there and have its body eaten by other animals in the area. Rather than him using the “sport” of hunting when it would have been of use to him, he selfishly shoots down an animal that will evidently rot because no one will eat it’s meat.
       The narrator, soon after taking a first shot at the buffalo and bringing it down, realizes what he has done and the guilt he feels. He says, “Now that the excitement was over, I could not but look with commiseration upon the poor animal that lay struggling and bleeding at my feet” (178).  This line reveals a negative quality of humans. He allowed his adrenaline to make the better judgment; he let his excitement push him towards killing the buffalo without good reasoning. While the man does not promote or condemn anything, he does reveal the selfish, uncaring ways humans can be when they want something.
        Animals are presented as nothing more than moving targets. Even after we are given the narrators heart-felt words on his agony for what he has done, still are not given anything that would make a reader feel a closer connection to the animal.
Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies.  Universitof Oklahoma Press, 1956. 178. Print.


3 responses to this post.

  1. In A Tour on the Prairies, the death of the buffalo brings about different feelings. The animal was killed for the excitement and thrill of the rider. Also, the killing of the buffalo gave the rider confidence therefore he had to conquer the buffalo the second time even though he did not the first time. On the other hand, the group of travelers do not have any true regard for the buffaloes because if they did they would not have plotted and planned how to get one as the animals huddled together and minded their own business. The travelers would have instead watched them intently and stood in awe of the amazing, fierce beasts. The rider eventually shows compassion to the buffaloes once the adrenaline settles and once he realizes that it will die an agonizing death and that other animals will feed on it. The cost of his action weighs in on him. As he looks at the buffalo as an animal and not an unimportant object he has compassion and remorse.

  2. In the beginning of the story, Washington Irving came across as not having any connection to animals. He first mentions how to effectively kill a buffalo. “Pistols are very effective in buffalo hunting, as the hunter can ride up close to the animal, and fire at it while at full speed; whereas the long heavy riffles used on the frontier, cannot be easily managed, nor discharged with accurate aim from horseback.” (Pg 114) While attempting to kill the animal for “sport” he had a hard time doing so. However, there was a shift in emotion when he saw the animal suffer. He confesses that he is “nothing of a sportsman and had prompted to this unwonted exploit by the magnitude of the game, and the excitement of an adventurous chase” (pg 117). Towards the end he puts the animal out of his misery and shoots it. You said that because Irving looked with commiseration at the animal it reveals a negative quality of humans. I must disagree with you because yes it is true that Irving should not have killed the buffalo for fun but I think it was a shift in recognizing his mistake and hopefully learning from it. It is unfortunate that that Irving was given the buffalo’s tongue as a trophy. To me this addressed a bigger picture in that there are three kinds of people those that take pride in the pointless deaths of innocent animals, others who feel remorse and yet do nothing to stop this brute behavior, and others who simply will not take part in such activities.

  3. In essence, I agree with all of you. The buffalo was seemingly killed merely for the sport of the hunt, not for necessity. And after Irving has to kill the animal he has wounded, he feels remorse. He says “To inflict a wound thus in cool blood, I found a totally different thing from firing in the heat of the chase(179).” He then meditates on his action and the ‘wreck’ he “had so wantonly produced (179).”

    I disagree with your three categories of people, joselyngarcia2014. We cannot place all people in these three categories while only observing a white male in a homosocial atmosphere. To validate your argument you should qualify the three categories to be more exclusive, as in, these are the only three categories of white men on the American frontier.

    Also, you have all mentioned the buffalo, but what about the exploitation of the bees? (Surely some bees were killed in the extraction of their honey.) Do the bees count as less important than the buffalo because of their stature? Or because Irving’s men were planning to actually eat the honey? Either way is it acceptable to exclude them from our responses?

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