Posts Tagged ‘death’

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?


Animal Deaths in Washington Irving’s “A Tour on the Prairies” and their Colonialist implications

In Washington Irving’s A Tour on the Priaries, the deaths of animals are depicted in a way that alludes to the notion of colonial exploitation of virgin lands and native peoples. In the chapter entitled “A Bee Hunt,” Irving describes the process that the white settlers carry out in order to collect the prized, honey-soaked beehives from the habitats of these airborne insects. He emphasizes the sense of purpose and right of domination exhibited by the bee hunters, stating that they “plied their axes vigorously at the foot of the tree to level it with the ground,” (Irving, 52). Here, the reader can easily draw an imaginary parallel to early British colonialists furiously tearing away at the natural landscape as they work to construct new (and potentially profitable) settlements.

At the same time, the writer characterizes the animals as innocent victims who could not have possibly anticipated their demise at the hands of these foreign beings. He also notes that these animals possess certain noble aspects that are to be admired, indicating that he might hold similar feelings about the Native Americans, who were similarly victimized by white men.  The bees in the narrative met a similar fate—as their once “industrious community” was overtaken by the axe of alien aggressors.

Irving outlines the factor of profitability on the behalf of the hunters, writing that “Every stark bee-hunter was to be seen with a rich morsel in his hand, dripping about his fingers, and disappearing as rapidly as a cream tart before the holiday appetite of a schoolboy,” (Irving, 53). Such wording evokes in the reader’s mind the images and emotionality associated with claiming a well-deserved prize of say, a stuffed animal after a successful day at the carnival—it all seems to be a game with an objective (victory) for these white settlers, who think little of the inhabitants of the habitat that they disturb.

The writer goes on to indulge his feelings of guilt upon his own killing of a buffalo, perhaps to assuage them by having expressed them on paper. Initially, he describes these mammoth creatures with awe, wonderment and terror, again much like an observant white settler might articulate a memory of encountering Indians for the first time. After all is said and done and Irving has fired several shots into the buffalo, which agonizes in pain as it dies, he expresses great remorse. “It seemed as if I had inflicted pain in proportion to the bulk of my victim, and as if there were a hundred-fold greater waste of life than there would have been in the destruction of an animal of inferior size,” he writes (Irving, 178). The reader can only guess that this is a form of apologetic foreshadowing for the magnitude of destruction inflicted upon the natives by colonialist white settlers.

Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. 50-54, 171-179. Print.

An analysis of animal deaths in The Pioneers.

In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, there are two specific scenes involving the death of animals the significance of these animal’s death is that it demonstrates the difference between hunters and those who kill for sport.  The first scene involves Natty, Edwards, and Judge Temple all firing shots at a buck that runs across the path they are traveling.  After the deer is shot and killed an argument occurs among the men who fired as to who is responsible for the kill shot.  This scene enlightens the reader of the difference in opinions of hunters and sportsmen through Natty and Judge Temple.  The huntsman Natty is very outspoken about only killing for use of the animal for food as stated, “I suppose the creature is to be eaten…although I am a poor man, I can live without venison” (8).  Natty is assuming that the deer was shot for food and since he has no use for the meat he did not shot.  However, Judge Temple is more concerned about claiming the kill shot stating, “Think Natty, how should I triumph over that quizzing dog, Dick Jones, who has failed seven times already this season, and has only brought in one woodchuck and a few gray squirrels” (9). Judge Temple has no intention of using the deer’s meat but to use the kill as bragging rights over a less successful sportsman.

The second scene revolves around the vast numbers of pigeons in the area with the settlers planning to shoot as many as possible mainly for sport rather than processing them into goods.  Again Natty appears as the huntsman that promotes killing out of necessity not for waste of sport, “it’s wicked to be shooting into flocks in this wasty manner; and none do it, who know how to knock over a single bird.  If a body has a craving for pigeon’s flesh, why, it’s made the same as all other creature’s for man’s eating; but not to kill twenty and eat one” (251).  This is contrasted by the settler’s who are too overwhelmed with greed to acknowledge their waste of a resource.  Although they plan to process their kills the amount of dead pigeons would result in an over-supply leaving time for the meat to spoil.


Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1958. 1-255. Print.