Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We've yammered on a lot about civilization in Julie of the Wolves. But what exactly is it that we're talking about? In the book, civilization is a murky idea at best. Does it just mean any place that humans live? Or does it refer only to big cities? Or are we talking about something scarier, more sinister – a force to be reckoned with?
Civilization itself can't be a symbol – it's just too big an idea – but Miyax encounters many symbols of civilization, the most important of which is the plane from which those faceless hunters shoot Amaroq. Let's go back to that scene for just a second:
The air exploded and she stared up into the belly of the plane. Bolts, doors, wheels, red, white, silver, and black, the plane flashed before her eyes. In that instant she saw great cities, bridges, radios, school books. She saw the pink room, long highways, TV sets, telephones, and electric lights. Black exhaust enveloped her, and civilization became this monster that snarled across the sky. (3.138)
This is a Big Moment. Right here, in this brief encounter with the terrifying plane, Miyax changes her mind about just about everything. She doesn't want to go to San Francisco anymore, no siree.
To her, the plane is something awful. It takes her father away. It's a monster. When she sees the plane, she doesn't just see a machine. She sees just about everything a person would see in civilization (like roads, bridges, and TVs), and there you have it; this particular plane is a symbol of civilization.
The Big Picture
If the plane is a monster that represents civilization to Miyax, what exactly does that mean for our understanding of civilization in the novel on the whole? Nothing good, that's for sure. For Miyax, civilization has ripped apart her wolf family and made her unable to re-enter the human world. And because we see the world from Miyax's perspective, we're meant to view civilization as a destructive force as well.
Unfortunately, while it's destructive, civilization is also totally unstoppable. When Tornait dies and Miyax decides to rejoin Kapugen and go by Julie once again, it's civilization that drives her to this decision. Because of all the development that's going on in Alaska,
The seals are scares and the whales are almost gone.
The spirits of the animals are passing away. (3.263)
For Miyax, this means that the tundra can no longer keep her alive. All the things that nature had to offer her have been taken away by the modern hunters, oil drillers, and various other people who come to take advantage of Alaska's bounty.
Let's face facts. Civilization has won its battle against nature, and Miyax has to give up the life she wanted to lead. She must become Julie.