Fiction as a Message: Kingsolver’s “Animal Dreams”
In Mother Teresa’s poem “Do It Anyway,” the famous missionary reflects on the numerous misfortunes that occur in daily life and advises people coming face-to-face with these issues to continue acting benevolently. As she advises her readers: “Give your best, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.” In her novel Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver extends equally inspiring guidance about how one can make the most of every day, and how to live graciously despite challenges. This author meticulously crafts multiple characters to offer pieces of her own opinions concerning what it takes for one to fulfill the responsibilities of being a wholesome person.
Although Kingsolver’s character Doc Homer exhibits a variety of offbeat habits and displays his emotions in different ways, his mannerisms prove that it is essential for one to love those around oneself, even if it may be difficult to make these feelings apparent. At multiple points throughout the novel, this father figure seems quite distanced and apathetic. However, what appears as disassociation from the outside proves to be deep affection. Firstly, in one chapter that centers Doc Homer, Kingsolver describes him as a “spider, driven by different instincts. He lies mute, hearing only in the tactile way that a spider hears, touching the threads of the web with long extended fingertips and listening. Listening for trapped life,” (98). One will infer that if Doc Homer truly did not care for his family, he would not be as attentive. The “instincts” to which Kingsolver refers function as his fatherly, caring instincts. Also, the practicality that Doc Homer has developed after years of working as doctor is reflected within his relationship with his daughters. For example, when the daughters’ neighbor and caretaker gives the two sisters a set of cowboy boots, hats, toy guns, and holsters, Doc Homer decides to take “the guns away, for the preservation of their souls, and the boots on account of their arches. He let them keep the hats” (170). It is probably that the girls, because of their youth, did not understand their father’s reasoning behind taking control over what they considered toys. When supplied with this logic behind the decision, it is clear that he prohibited the use of the guns and and boots not as a limit of his affection, but as a measure of his deep care. Later, when Codi journeys to her house’s disorganized attic, she explains her surprise upon investigating. Codi describes that, to her astonishment, there are “[s]tacked boxes of Hallie’s and my old clothes, school papers. photo albums, and all kinds of other detritus stood in neat rows, labeled chronologically and by content. I felt overwhelmed by so much material evidence of our family’s past” (281). Although all of these relics remain out of sight and thus out of mind of the two sisters, this arrangement does not diminish the fact that they exist. Doc Homer keeps memorabilia from the girls even though is aware that this expression of love will not be evident to them. Kingsolver consistently demonstrates that the tools that Doc Homer utilizes to express his emotions are slightly eclectic, she also employs his existence in the novel to express to the reader that it is vital for him or her to outwardly show affection, even if his or her methods are not quite understood by others.
Hallie, the designated inspirational hero of Animal Dreams, acts as Kingsolver’s voice and apparatus for evoking powerful emotion in the readers of the novel concerning how to live benevolently. For example, in one of Codi’s first descriptions of her sister, she outlines her strong and fervent desire to help the greater good. She voices her admiration when she describes how “[f]ew people know so clearly what they want. Most people can’t even think what to hope for when they throw a penny in a fountain” (36). This idolization speaks volumes about Kingsolver’s message with Hallie’s presence in the novel; if one wants to be as celebrated as this global ambassador, he or she must identify his or her values and be grounded in them. Kingsolver addresses this virtue in another quote much later in the novel. In one of Hallie’s letters to Codi, which operate as the only direct pieces of contact that the readers maintain with the protagonist’s sister, she again writes about her core principle in which she roots herself. Hallie explains her perspective on life when she resolves that “the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope” (299). After considering that Hallie has, at this point, traveled to Nicaragua to teach people how to farm effectively, it is clear that Hallie has already established her own virtues. That being said, in addition to writing about her values, she also leads through example. Hallie again uses a quote in order to embody the interpretation shared by her and Kingsolver regarding how one should live to the farthest and most fulfilling extent possible. At the small ceremony that Cody holds in honor of Hallie, the protagonist reads several quotes written by the late sister and those that she admired. Codi reads a remark originally said by Father Fernando Cardenal in respect of her sister which states, “‘You learn to read so you can identify the reality in which you live, so that you can become a protagonist of history rather than a spectator,’” (326). Hallie, a voracious reader, surely applies this statement to her life throughout the portion of the novel where she is alive. Furthermore, by holding this quotation in high regard of one of her characters, Kingsolver manipulates it as a message to her readers to encourage them to get involved with issues that they value. Hallie, a global ambassador with seemingly endless sympathy for others, leads by example and through quotes in order function as the reader’s guide as to how he or she should exist.
Due to Loyd’s troubled teenage past, from which he recovers as he ascends into adulthood, he learns that it is necessary for one to constantly evaluate oneself and to be aware of the times when change becomes crucial. Both Codi and Loyd experienced considerable growth after graduating from high school. When they later catch up when Codi returns to Grace, it is visible that they have both significantly matured. For instance, Loyd shares a remarkable statement when he claims, “The spirits have been good enough to let us live here and use the utilities, and we’re saying: We know how nice you’re being… Sorry if we messed up anything. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble, and we’ll try to be good guests” (239). Loyd’s growth and maturity is evident throughout his insight. He is now aware of the importance of looking at full perspectives of situations. That being said, one must consider that Loyd developed this mindset through evaluating his own attitude, and Kingsolver uses this outstanding example of advancement to employ Loyd as a leader. Earlier in the novel, when Codi accompanies Loyd to one of his cockfights, they begin to discuss the ethics behind it, and Loyd demonstrates the process he uses to determine if his actions are moral. Loyd soon comes to the conclusion that he expects “‘that humans… have more heart than that. I can’t feel good about people making a spectator sport out of puncture wounds and internal hemorrhage… My brother Leander got killed by a drunk, about fifteen miles from here… I’m quitting right now” (191). With the help of Codi, Loyd is able to recognize his own disapproval of his actions. In order to correct this, he decides to adjust his behavior to again feel satisfied with his moral. Kingsolver utilizes this situation to demonstrate to her readers how they should act when faced with similar circumstances. Soon after this, the two begin to talk about the death of Loyd’s brother. Codi assures him that the conversation is not necessary if it makes him uncomfortable, and Loyd responds “‘I don’t ever talk about him. Sometimes I’ll go a day or two without even thinking about him, and then I get scared I might forget he ever was,’” (207). Loyd is resolute on speaking about his twin Leander because of his fear that his brother’s memory will slip from his mind. Loyd makes sure to hold himself to high standards so he will be content with his actions later in life. Loyd’s transition from an indifferent teenager to an ever-improving and judicious adult represents that his sense of reasoning has advanced and that there is no way to better oneself than analyzing a situation from a global perspective.
Barbara Kingsolver develops her key characters in order to indicate her opinions relating to the possibility of a lifetime of fulfillment. These individuals comply with what it means to the author to live thoroughly, and their inclusion in the novel is intended to inspire readers. Even though current events may seem dire and society may be faced with persistent problems, the reader comes to the shocking truth that he or she should most definitely consider Kingsolver’s advice.
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