Study Guide

Animal Dreams

By Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams Introduction

It's the late '80s, and Codi Noline doesn't know where her childhood is.

If you got that joke, you were either born in 1990, just like Animal Dreams, or you're a time traveler. Welcome to the future.

Anyway, get ready for a woman without a past, a father who deliberately changes his own memories, a town on the historical registry, and "a nation of amnesiacs" in love with forgetting (19.139). You could call Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams a meditation on the relationship between memory and identity, but that would leave out all the sexy parts. Not to mention the peacocks, the politics, the mercenaries, and the trash-talking grandmas of the Stich and B**** club.

Yup, you read that right.

Animal Dreams is like the chocolate zucchini cake of contemporary literature: a delicious, easy-to-swallow treat that conceals a healthy serving of social and environmental conscience. In the book, Codi Noline has always been inseparable from her revolutionary baby sister, Hallie, right up until Hallie packs her pickup truck for Nicaragua. Down in Central America, agrarian revolutionaries called the Sandinistas are battling a U.S.-backed armed force called the "contras," or Counterrevolutionaries, and Hallie means to support the revolution—the one with communes and donkeys instead of helicopters and landmines.

While Hallie heads out to make history, Codi heads home to a place she barely remembers: Grace, Arizona, a tiny town on the edge of extinction, where she comes face to face with the people who rejected her as a kid.

If Animal Dreams sounds like the novelized foreign affairs section from the late-'80s New York Times, don't worry—the focus is on Codi and her struggle to find a home among the people of Grace. Her sister's letters from the frontlines in Nicaragua both place the novel in a historical moment and remind Codi that's she's always treated life as if it were a spectator sport. We get to watch as Codi finally jumps in and grabs the ball—with help from some raging old ladies and the patient love of Loyd, her hunky ex-high-school-boyfriend who's now just her hunky boyfriend.

It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

What is Animal Dreams About and Why Should I Care?

Telephone lines. Acid Rain. Stonewashed Jeans. Actual mail.

Oh, man. We're totally in the '80s.

This novel can feel like a time capsule from the days of Billy-Idol haircuts and peasant skirts. Even its social and political problems can feel almost quaint in the era of rising sea levels and daily terrorist attacks.

But even if Animal Dreams can look a little naïve from almost twenty years down the line, its central conflict is all about the timeless stuff of memory, family, and trauma. In fact, when Codi arrives in Grace, she's so traumatized by her childhood she can barely even remember it. She's even forgotten almost drowning in a desert flashflood. We've gotta say, that's not something we think we'd forget—but Codi is special that way.

Through objects—a box full of shoes, a gravestone—and through other people, like her former nanny and her ex-high school boyfriend, Codi gradually recovers her past. Animal Dreams sets her struggle to remember against America's struggle to forget its role in destroying the environment and the lives of people in other countries. In an age of newsfeeds and tweets, when Facebook has taken over the job of cataloguing our years in review, Animal Dreams asks us to question the power we give up when we don't take responsibility for knowing about our own past.

After all, what we don't remember, we're doomed to repeat...like the tragedy of stonewashed jeans.

Animal Dreams Resources

Websites

BillyIdol.Net
This is a page devoted entirely to Billy Idol and his hair.

Abandoned Mines of the Southwest
Here's a webpage of pictures from mine explorers in the West and Southwest.

Who Were the Anasazi?
A website from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management with the retro appeal of a scholastic newsletter.

Fort Apache Historic Park
A website where you can learn about the Kinishba ruins and Apache history and culture.

Understanding the Iran-Contra Affair
An exhaustive resource on the history, context, and fallout of the Iran-Contra affair.

Articles and Interviews

What Happened to the Anasazi?
Smithsonian has some ideas.

Huff Post on Gary Webb
Find out a little more about the nasty goings on between the U.S., the CIA, the contras, and crack-cocaine imports.

PBS Interview with Frederick Hitz
The former Inspector General of the CIA gives the scoop on U.S. involvement with contras and crack-cocaine.

Video

Santa Clara Pueblo
Here's a video on Pueblo festival dances and the issues facing the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico.

The Eagle Dance
A performance of the eagle dance at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.

Today's News from 1986
This NBC news report from 1986 begins with a report on U.S. support of the contras. It's a great example of the kind of confusing rhetoric that kept U.S. citizens uninformed on the issues.

Audio

Los Papagos Molinas Waila
The sounds of chicken-scratch.

Sound of an Old-Fashioned Flashbulb
Codi hears the sound of a pop and shattering in her dreams, just before she goes blind. This file is the sound of an old-fashioned flashbulb going off, just like the one that haunts Codi's nightmares.

Images

Kinishba
A photo of the ruins at Kinishba.

CIA Document
This one detailing U.S. support for the contras.