Depiction of Animals in Alcott’s “Transcendental Wild Oats”

Alcott’s satirical story, “Transcendental Wild Oats,” conceptualizes nature in a way that the vast majority of the other text’s we’ve read have not. While most of the other texts have focused on nature in relation to destruction of forest, wilderness, or the environment as a whole, this text gives an interesting perspective on the use of domesticated animals.

The community’s diet is the first instance in which we see Alcott’s criticism of not using animals for the benefit of humans. When Brother Timon states “neither sugar, molasses, milk, butter, cheese, nor flesh are to be used…for nothing is to be admitted which has caused wrong or death to man or beast,” it is clear that Alcott is criticizing vegetarianism, or what would today be called veganism as they eschew all animal products not just meat (Alcott 33). The lack of animal products within their diet is criticized multiple times throughout the rest of the story, as though not consuming animals is entirely a negative thing.

Not only are animal products avoided in their diet, but they are also avoided in all other aspects of their lives. Brother Timon goes on to say that clothes made of wool, shoes made of leather, and lamps lit with animal fat must also be avoided (Alcott 33). Alcott seems to be even more critical of this than a vegetarian diet as this is primarily what Sister Hope, clearly the character we are meant to sympathize with, counters more so than the diet. Alcott’s narrator states that they discussed “the ‘horrors of shambles,’ and ‘incorporation of the brute in men’” sarcastically, ignoring that much of what humans inflict on animals is, and always has been, just like that.

Although within the historical context of when this was written, this makes sense. At that time, pastoralism was highly praised, and so the lack of use of any animals or animal products on a farm would have been completely baffling to many people. Alcott is not completely critical of farming, but because the farming is not done within a pastoral context, she does not give it very much credence. It’s one thing to not maintain a vegetarian diet yourself, but it’s another thing to completely bash the diet as a whole. Because Alcott seemingly finds the use of animals necessary for humans, I am led to believe that she does not find any intrinsic value in animals, but instead believes that they are there solely for the use of humans.

Alcott, Loisa May. Loisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology. Ch/Art: Transcendental Wild oats p. 28-45. pub. Doubleday Sept 1997

 

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