Close Reading of “Dreams of the Animals”
Dreams of the Animals by Margaret Atwood is a poem written in several verses. From the title of the poem, the reader can see that the emphasis is put on “the animals” not “the dreams”. This gives the reader insight on the topic of this poem, that it will be focusing on the animals and their feelings. Also, since only humans are known to dream, this poses questions for the reader about what the differences between animal and human really are.
Dreams of the Animals is written in a voice for the animals, as the animals cannot speak themselves. Since the speaker is an activist for the animals, the poem circles around the topic that animals are just as important as humans, they are people as well. However, the concept that animals, “mostly dream of other animals each according to its own kind” (Atwood 1-3), does imply that animals have less complex dreams than humans do. Atwood’s poem touches on the dreams of different species of animals, one example being how moles dream of ,”mole smells” (8). Dreams of the Animals follows a formal structure, as every animal and their dreams are situated into separate stanzas. For example, the second stanza is about, “certain mice and small rodents” (Atwood 4), and the fifth stanza is on the topic of “red and black striped fish” (13,14). Furthermore, as the poem is separated into stanzas, there are also indented stanzas as well. When the plot turns to more of a darker theme of nightmares, the stanzas are indented and some are in parentheses, almost as if they are an ‘aside’ or to be treated as separate from the other more cheerful dreams.
As the speaker talks about dreams in the poem there is no physical setting, because the speaker moves from dream to dream. However, each dream does have a brief explanation of setting in each stanza. The first four stanzas, there is a brief explanation of natural setting, which creates a more light and happy tone and implies that the animals enjoy being in the wild and not enclosed in tight tanks or cages. In the fifth stanza, there is a change in setting as the animals no longer dream of the natural world, but the dangers of other beings. This change in description of settings and the animal’s dreams, creates a darker and more heavy tone for the reader. The change in tone and use of words to describe the settings also a message for the reader, that animals do not necessarily like being kept captive and traumatized by humans, and this is why these things show up in their dreams. Atwood’s poem uses imagery to broaden the perspective onto the topic of animals and their rights. The first example of imagery in the poem is the use of vivid colours, such as; “green and golden” (Atwood 9) and “red and black” (13). This imagery is used to describe the dreams of those animals that are free from all constraints in the wild, and to show the reader that these animals are content and full of life.
The second example of imagery in Dreams of the Animals is associated with the animals which have human contact. The disturbing dreams of the fox being, “of baby foxes, with their necks bitten” (27), evokes the mental effect on animals being held captive, into the mind of the reader. A final example of imagery in the poem is the image of people themselves being the predator. To convey the fear of the animals, Atwood writes, “a huge pink shape with five claws descending” (5-6) and also the fear of manmade objects, such as; “soap and metal” (21), the “roadside zoo” (25), and the “train station” (29-30). Margaret Atwood’s poem obviously has a strong stance against human interaction with animals. As presented in their subconscious with nightmares and the lack of vivid dreams, the animals fear human interaction. One example from the ninth stanza being, “the caged armadillo […] which runs all day in figure eights […] no longer dreams but is insane when waking” (28-34). This poem’s topic and message relates to the modern-day debate and fight against animal testing and their rights. Although Atwood wrote the poem forty years ago, it still relates to today. One example being the animal rights activist group, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which shows videos and writes articles for the public, to inform people of the mistreatment of animals.
In Dreams of the Animals, humans are portrayed as the monsters, and “Atwood suggests that humans and animals are interdependent and that when animals become objects, people are likewise reduced in terms of their humanity” (eNotes). The topic of animals is common among Margaret Atwood’s works of literature. In The Animals in That Country, Atwood gives the animal personified characters, and relays them to the reader as if they were human. In another literary work titled Procedures for Underground, is a series of poems about animals also involving dreams (eNotes). Therefore, the topic of animal rights is a common one throughout Atwood’s works, and her message is very clear: animals are not meant to be used and abused by humans, as even keeping them captive has mental effects on them.
Atwood, Margaret. “Dreams of the Animals.” Introduction to the Study of Poetry. Chulalongkorn University, 19 June 2007. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.”Dreams of the Animals Analysis.” Enotes.com. Enotes.com, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.”Dreams of the Animals Themes.” Enotes.com. Enotes.com, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.Montalvo, Beatriz. “Atwood’s “Dreams of the Animals”.” Beatrizmontalvo. WordPress.com, 02 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
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