Posts Tagged ‘animal death’

Working through John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals”

“The cultural marginalization of animals is, of course, a more complex process than their physical marginalization. The animals of the mind cannot be so easily dispersed. Sayings, dreams, games, stories, superstitions, the language itself, recall them. The animals of the mind, instead of being dispersed, have been co-opted into other categories so that the category animal has lost its central importance. Mostly they have been co-opted into the family and into the spectacle.”


This quote proved rather troubling to me. Although I wholly agree with Berger’s comments about pets, especially the interesting transition from “useful” to unnecessary, but ever more important. The problem I had with the above quote is that I don’t believe that all animals fit into these two black-and-white categories. The most glaring example, to me, is that of a cow or chicken being killed for meat. Whether by a small-town farmer or a large-scale industrial farm, an animal being killed for human’s food does not fit into either of these categories. The idea of a person being able to kill their “family” is completely ingrained in our culture as wrong; the thought of watching in wonder at the death of an animal is also incredibly taboo.

I understand that Berger’s point was probably to say that these situations, with the death of an animal to further humans’ situations, is so far removed from our lives that we do not even recognize it as a part of the circle of life, nor as a significant portion of the animals on our planet. This point got me to thinking about the incidence of animal death in a  zoo. Of course, if a family pet were to die, this would be considered a tragic loss, with the possibility of a funeral or memorial service for the animal. But with Berger’s assertion that zoo animals are seen as spectacles, how would this convergence be handled by the public? While I am sure a zoo animal’s death (especially an untimely one) would be seen as a horrible loss, I think there is a possibility that the public would even begin to hurt for this animal, as if it was a pet. This possible convergence of Berger’s two categories is, to me, very interesting. Further dissection of Berger’s quote proved to me how fluid these two categories can be, allowing for the human population to  feel compassion and companionship when it is “socially necessary,” but to also easily put the rights and welfare of animals out of their mind when needed.  


Berger, John. About Looking. International Ch./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 3-28. pub. Vintage Sept 1991


Depiction of animals in P.T. Barnum’s Novel

Throughout his tale, Bob anthropomorphizes the leopards; he believes the female mate of the male leopard he shot is seeking him for revenge. Bob is constantly referred to as a “youth” which seems to highlight his inexperience and naïveté while downplaying and dismissing his assessment of the leopard. This could also mean that Bob will one day value the life of an animal more than he did at this time in his life. Bob will look back on the events in South Africa differently one day and with regret. Bob believes he has overpowered the leopard because as a human he has a greater ability to hold a strong commanding gaze and deems the leopard as “unequal to the test.” He describes her claws as having a “nervous twitch” and believes she cast “furtive glances” at Bob. Bob wants to believe she is “darting her eyes in fear” (21) but the fact the she is advancing upon him demonstrates that clearly she is not afraid. Bob applies the stereotype of women being less than men to animals because he believes that due to her being female she must not be as courageous as a male leopard and seems surprised that she is as “fully courageous as her mate” (21). Bob and his cousin Dick also view the animals as commodities. Bob seems to view the animal as already dead because he would very much like to use her coat as a furnishing earlier when he killed the male Bob was upset that there was not enough time to skin the animal because it would make “a handsome trophy” (17). Dick is happy to hear Bob has killed a male and female because they are parents to some kittens nearby and now Dick can easily take them for the circus without their protective parents in the picture Dick is surprised that the kitten is trying to break free of him and when successful he bemoans the fact the young leopard did not realize he was “well off,” when a life of captivity is not what is best for wild animals. It is odd that Bob believes the leopardess was intelligent enough to seek revenge on behalf of her male but the kittens are too young to realize their parents are gone even though they try to fight off their captors.

Barnum, P.T. “The Wild Beasts, Birds and Reptiles of the World and the Story of Their Capture”. R.S. Peale, 1889.

The correlation of animal death and apocalypse in Irving’s “A Tour of the Prairies” and in George’s “Julie of the Wolves”

I’m interested in the topic of animal death and how it correlates with tragic apocalypse. I always sense that when animal death is described in great detail with intense humanizations, there tends to be an agenda on the part of the author. I find that the author wants to elicit a response from the reader, to either change a worldview perspective or take action, especially to preserve the natural world in its raw, wild state.

I am especially fascinated with the way that this animal death/apocolypse experience is delivered through the package of innocence. Irving sets up his book with an establishment of his character and how he will simply be narrating his stories of life on the prairies, as if he is simply a scientist recording data. What’s more, he states that he has been encouraged to write, therefore disowning any sense that he might have an agenda.

Similarly, I find the format of Julie of the Wolves as a children’s novel intriguing. There is an innocence to a children’s novel – it is a book supposed to be read for pure entertainment for the innocent mind of a child. Even though the protagonist is – technically – an adolescent and even goes through an experience of getting married and almost raped, the book is still considered a children’s book. The book deals with intense environmental and social issues that can be reached to adults through their children who are reading this book.


1. Are animal death and apocolypse linked? And if so, what are the implications of that connection?

2. How do Irving and George effectively communicate the “package” of innocence to their readers?

3. Why is innocence so important in discussing animal death that implies apocolypse?

4. Does the degree of humanization of animals in Irving and George’s text determine the intensity of emotional effect upon the reader? If so, what is that emotional effect and how do Irving and George manipulate this concept?