Study Guide

Animal Dreams Analysis

By Barbara Kingsolver

  • Tone

    Wounded, Thoughtful, with a Large Side of Sarcasm

    The main characters in Animal Dreams are all stuck in the painful losses of their past. Codi is hung up on the death of her mother, her miscarriage, her faraway sister, and her rejection by the town where she grew up. Doc, our other narrative point of view, is losing his mind and his memories.

    Still, despite all this suffering, Codi doesn't take herself too seriously. She and Hallie both hate self-righteousness. It's not about being right or being a hero; it's about doing what needs to be done. Sometimes that means saving babies from choking, and sometimes it means making penis jokes in caves.

    Take this moment from the Christmas celebrations at Santa Rosalia Pueblo, for example. Codi and Loyd are staying at Loyd's mom's house, which she has decorated with lots of little trinkets—pots and statues and flowers. Codi has just asked Loyd about the cultural understanding of home among the Pueblo, and he responds:

    "We're like coyotes," he said. "Get to a good place, turn around three times in the grass, and you're home. Once you know how, you can always do that, no matter what. You won't forget."

    I thought of Inez's copious knickknacks and suspected Loyd was idealizing a bit." (19.84-5)

    Codi has big problems to solve, and she's trying to think her way through them, but she likes to undercut her reflections on herself and other people with sarcasm and jokes. She's very self-aware, which is why she's still fun to be around in spite of her weird tendencies to lie at random and to reject other people before they can reject her.

  • Genre

    Realism; Family Drama; Coming of Age

    There are no cowboys, ghosts, or dragons in them there mines, and the only "Indian" in Animal Dreams drives an Amtrak and drinks Coke. Animal Dreams is a sometimes painfully realistic novel. It refuses to save its central damsel in distress, for example, and both of the Noline sisters try to keep it real when they say there's no such thing as heroes; there are only good people doing what needs to be done.

    The novel is also a family drama because its action centers around the Noline family and their connection to the community of Grace. On the other hand, the conflict between Doc and Codi, though important, isn't really the central one in the story.

    Instead, the most important issues center on Codi's coming of age. As Loyd puts it in Chapter 18, Codi hasn't yet had the job that she "grew up on," where she "stopped thinking about [herself] all the time and started thinking about something else" (18.134). Even though Codi's in her thirties, trauma has left her sort of frozen at fifteen, the moment when she lost her first child.

    Even if she doesn't know it until much later on, coming back to Grace, for Codi, means picking up where she left off, and learning that it's okay to take responsibility for other people and be a part of a community. In a lot of ways, Animal Dreams is a coming-of-age story about growing up and out of family drama. Only when she gets over her past, for example, can Codi forgive her dad and her neighbors and start treating them as the people they are, rather than the people she (barely) remembers.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title Animal Dreams is a reference to a specific conversation about the dreams Jack the dog is having as Codi and Loyd lie around having some post-sex snuggles in the middle of an archeological site. Let's give it a gander.

    Loyd asked, "What do you think animals dream about?"

    "I don't know. Animal heaven." I laughed.

    "I think they dream about whatever they do when they're awake. Jack chases rabbits, and city dogs chase, I don't know what. Meter readers."

    "But that's kind of sad. Couldn't a dog have an imagination, like a person?"

    "It's the same with people. There's nothing sad about it. People dream about what they do when they're awake."


    I studied his face. "Didn't you ever dream you could fly?"

    "Not when I was sorting pecans all day."

    "Really, though. Didn't you ever fly in your dreams?" Even I had done that, though not often.

    "Only when I was real close to flying in real life," he said. "Your dreams, what you hope for and all that, it's not separate from your life. It grows right up out of it." (12.151-160)

    Animals dream about what they do all day. In the beginning of the novel, Codi finds that a little sad—she wants to use her imagination; she wants to fly; she wants to escape. Big surprise, Codi.

    So what does chasing rabbits have to do with saving small desert towns from environmental disaster? Consider this statement from the novel: "[T]he very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope" (23.178). This novel is anti-heroism—by which mean not that it hates heroes, but that it thinks real heroism is in the small details of day-to-day life.

    Just as Jack the dog dreams about what he does all day, figuring out what your dreams are and just going after them every day of your life is the best possible outcome for characters in Animal Dreams. It's not that Kingsolver is against imagination; it's just that imagination in this novel is grounded in what we do in life.

    What that means is that Codi and her friends and family save their town not by heroic, crazy acts of sabotage but just by writing letters, making piñatas, and ultimately getting Grace on the historical registry.

    On the flipside, Hallie dies at the hands of the contras not because she meant to go be a martyr in Nicaragua but because she couldn't do anything other than use her skills to try and help people—that's just who she was. As Codi puts it, quoting both Hallie and Loyd, at the end of the book, "It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around" (27.46).

    Way to sum up the themes of the novel, Codi. That's deep.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Like a lot of novels, Animal Dreams ends where it began—but only sort of.

    It's the Day of the Dead again, that celebration when the people of Grace decorate and picnic on their family graves. Instead of Doc watching his daughters sleep, thinking about how he can make their childhood just a little worse today, we have Codi, a few years older and a lot more pregnant, climbing up the mountain to see the place where her mother died.

    Why do we get this memory? Sure, Kingsolver wants to show us that life has moved on, that Codi's no longer grieving so hard, that she stays in Grace, which still exists, that she marries Loyd, that she's pregnant, and that Doc is dead. But there are a lot of memories that Kingsolver could use to tie up this novel. We could see Codi letting go of her grief over her sister or her dead child at the side of the flood plain, or we could see the healthy river coming back to life.

    Instead, Codi and Viola walk up to the dusty mesa to see "the place where we watched my mother go" (28.1). Why? Well, on the one hand, it's a nice walk—but we think the real answer here is about dirt. Remember how Codi described the dam site as looking like an open grave from above? Our money is on the idea that dead zones in the land equal zones of repressed and unresolved trauma for Codi in the symbolic language of the novel.

    This mesa—the old alfalfa fields—is the last dead place in town: "Dead for two decades, the earth was long and white and cracked, like a huge porcelain platter, dropped from the heavens" (28.12), Codi says. But when she gets up to the top of the mesa, she finds that it's actually not dead, after all: "[N]ow the rabbitbrush was beginning to grow here, too, topped with brushy gold flowers, growing like a renegade crop in the long, straight troughs of the irrigation ditches" (28.12).

    The scene up here on the mesa is all about the idea that after death comes new life. Codi's mother's last act was having Hallie, even though she knew it might kill her—just as Hallie went to Nicaragua knowing it might kill her, too. Both of them did it, in the straight-talking parlance of Viola, because "you don't think about it that much. You just go on and have your kids" (28.16). Sounds a lot like this: "What keeps you going isn't some fine destination, but the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive" (18.225).

    Codi remembers watching her mother's body come out of the helicopter, and she remembers feeling that "it isn't a tragedy we're watching, really. Just a finished life" (28.22). Then she watches the helicopter rise "like a soul" (28.22). Souls go up to heaven, bodies go down to the earth, and either way, it's not really a tragedy; it's just the end of your chance to do what you know how to do, and the beginning of fertilizing the rabbit brush.

  • Setting

    Grace, Arizona

    Setting is central in Animal Dreams, and it's also pretty centralized. Though Tucson, Nicaragua, and the reservations of the American Southwest all play major roles in the plot, it's Grace, Arizona that's really the star. It's almost a character itself—it definitely has character, and like our main character, Codi Noline, Grace has an unusual relationship to memory and time.

    The courthouse in its tiny downtown has "iron rings mortared into the block wall of the courthouse where a person could tie a horse" (2.14). Grace is full of fruit and nut orchards, and these, in turn, are full of peacocks. Actual peacocks—they came from Spain with the rest of the town's founders, and now they just wander around screaming and dropping feathers everywhere and spreading bird mites. It's super majestic.

    The town's multicolored houses and buildings are actually cut straight into the mountainside, so they follow its steep uphill climb. Walking in Grace is hardcore cardio, and people's front yards line up with their neighbor's roofs. Beyond the town, there's the desert, where Kingsolver loves to spend long paragraphs describing the different hues of brown, the snow outlining the limbs of cacti, and the way it feels to stand in the prehistoric living room of an ancestral Pueblo cliff dwelling.

    Loyd pretty much seduces Codi with his intimate knowledge of the land around them, and Kingsolver's descriptions are rich enough to evoke a realistic picture of the ecosystems in the area. You can check out visuals of the Southwest in our "Best of the Web" section below.

    Basically, reading Animal Dreams is like taking a vacation in Arizona—a vacation in which you do some profound emotional work and come out with your daddy issues all tied up. And speaking of complex narratives of memory and emotional pain, that's what setting often does in Animal Dreams:it reflects the progress of Codi's narrative. And as she gets further away from all her painful associations with the past, for example, we stop hearing so much about how hard it is to climb uphill.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree-Line

    Mixing straightforward language and narrative structures with complex symbolism and unfamiliar historical situations, Animal Dreams is a pleasant if challenging hike in the tree-line. In addition to some obsolete obsolete '80s-speak, like "post-office box" and "video store," there are also words and phrases in Spanish. Don't worry too much, though: Codi is usually pretty quick with explanations and translations.

  • Writing Style


    "I am the sister who didn't go to war," saysCodi in her opening line—but it's almost the last time in the novel she uses language so formal. More often, the novel is like a long conversation with a good friend who's maybe a little detail obsessed and judgmental.

    Codi tells her own story (mostly) in Animal Dreams, and she tells it with a seriousness that would be pretty darn infuriating if it weren't so funny so often. Take this scene from the city pilgrimage of the Stitch and B**** club, for example, when fifty older women from the small town of Grace descend on the streets of Tucson with their arms full of peacock piñatas:

    Norma Galvez, in the meantime, lost her partner and had to be escorted back to the big green naked lady by a bicycle policeman named Officer Metz. In a conversation that lasted only about five blocks she'd acquired an amazing number of facts about the man: for example, he had twin daughters born on Christmas Day, and wore a hernia belt. She told Emelina and me these things when she introduced him. (17.28)

    Codi tells us about Officer Metz's hernia belt with about the same tone that she uses when describing the hot springs in the Jemez Mountains or the flowers in Emelina's garden. Maybe it's a throwback to Codi's med school days, when she had to describe surgeries and wounds with deadpan detail.

    In any case, this style can be funny, as in the quote above, or heartbreaking, as when Codi describes the contents of Doc's attic archive, but Codi never tells us how to feel. She does play coy occasionally with language, especially when it comes to sex, but she's pretty straightforward even about that. She comes right out and tells Loyd, for example, that she just wants to shut up and go to bed with him.

    Still, even though desire, sex, and love are a big part of Animal Dreams, it's not a romance novel, and Codi's no fluttering heroine. With her deadpan description of events and scenes around her, Codi has to the draw the line somewhere. Usually it's at the bedroom door.

  • Carob Trees

    If you've heard of carob pods before, it might be because someone tried to convince you that they're a healthy substitute for chocolate. Let us be the first to tell you: they're not. Just eat the chocolate.

    But maybe our girl Codi doesn't know that yet, so as she chills out next to a liquor store one fine day, she finds herself chewing on some carob pods. And where there's carob pods, there's gotta be carob trees nearby.

    The interesting thing about these carobs is that they are "dioecious." That means you need a male carob tree and a female carob tree to make little carob babies. We promise we're getting somewhere with this.

    When Codi sees the female carob tree, she relates to it. Before you let your imagination run away, we should clarify that she doesn't literally want to be a tree. The thing that catches Codi's attention is that the tree is all alone—and because she's recently dumped Carlo, Codi's alone, too. For the first time in a whole decade.

    Yeah, we'd be feeling pretty lonely, too.

    At the end of the novel, when Codi seems to be returning to Grace (and Loyd) for good, she finally spots the male carob. It's by the train depot—which makes it even more obvious that the male carob is a symbol for manly old Loyd. The signage is pretty clear on this one, Shmoopers: the male and female carobs are Loyd and Codi, and in Loyd, Codi has finally found her true partner.

    Let's just hope their future little human babies are sweeter than those carob pods.

  • Fruit Drop

    Grace is a town of orchards. In some of the first scenes of the novel, we see Codi walking through a pecan orchard on her way to the Domingos house. Later, as she walks back toward downtown with John Tucker, they see that the ground is covered with tiny, immature nuts. Codi asks John Tucker what's going on, and he tells her it's "Fruit drop" (7.21), partly because he speaks in monosyllables, and partly because that's just what it's called.

    Fruit drop is caused by watering the trees with water from a river tainted with the sulfuric acid that the mine uses to wring a few more bits of copper out of the tailing piles. Since the mines no longer employ anyone, the orchards are the mainstay of Grace's economy, and without them, the whole town will die.

    That's their plot importance, but symbolically, the fruit trees represent children. Remember that it's Emelina's oldest son who introduces Codi to the idea of fruit drop, and we learn about these immaturely dropped fruits right after we learn in detail about Codi's lost child in Chapter Six. The immature green nuts on the ground are basically so many miscarried children, and like babies, they're the future of Grace.

    Loyd's aunt Sonia understands this baby-fruit relationship, too. She gives Loyd his own peach orchard, but he can only have it if he has children of his own. That's because "when you have a family, you need trees" (18.146). The implication here is interesting. It's not just that trees stand in symbolically for babies in this text, but rather that both trees and children symbolize the same thing: hope for the future.

  • Semilla Besada

    Nowhere is the relationship between trees and hope for the future clearer than in our final example of the fruit-tree symbolism of Animal Dreams. It's the "Semilla Besada" we're talking about, or "seed that's been kissed." It's a tree that produces and thrives more than its neighbors year after year.

    In Grace, people tend to decorate these trees, adorning them with baby booties and envelopes in homage to their good luck. The baby bootie indicates the relation these trees have to an idea of a hopeful future: parents want these trees to bless their children with luck.

    In Animal Dreams, Codi compares Hallie to a semilla besada because she has always thrived more spectacularly than everyone around her—certainly better than Codi or Doc. Later, Codi will have Hallie's funeral on the site of a specific semilla besada where the two girls hid intertwined locks of hair when they were little.

    Of course, this is all part of how Codi sees her sister—as a beacon of hope, and as the one person she's always cared for and protected. Importantly, the adorning of the semilla besada with booties and envelopes sounds an awful lot like the decorating of graves on the Day of the Dead. The semilla besada ends up being a symbol for life, hope, and fertility, but also for death and remembrance. No wonder Codi holds Hallie's funeral at the foot of one of these trees.

  • The Afghan

    This afghan is a black and red knitted blanket. Hallie and Codi carried it everywhere when they were kids. When Codi returns to Grace as an adult, she finds it folded up in the chaos of her father's house and takes it back to Emelina's. She still sort of needs a blankey, it seems. Later, when Hallie dies and Codi holds a memorial for her, the afghan is what she uses to collect all of the objects that symbolize memories of Hallie. She wraps them up in the afghan and then buries it.

    Interestingly, throughout most of the novel, the afghan seems to stand in for the comfort the girls have missed from their deceased mother. As a black wool bundle that Codi will bury, it's also a lot like the black sweater in which Codi buries her baby—so much so that Doc actually thinks that's what it is. That's his Alzheimer's talking, but it cements a visual and symbolic link between the two bundles.

    What's interesting, of course, is that the blanket is an object not from the girls' mother, but from Uda. We don't think that this is meant to suggest that Alice didn't care about her daughters or anything, but it does emphasize how much the women of Grace have actually stepped up to the role that Alice vacated when she died. Especially for Hallie, who, as Codi actually says early on in the book, would have had no memory at all of their mom, Uda was the person who gave out hugs and got mad when they didn't come home on time.

    Translating the afghan from a mother-object to an Uda-object means admitting that some of the people in Grace had been there for Hallie and Codi all along. We guess that just like Doc with his shoes, Codi sometimes expresses love through objects instead of words.

  • Vision

    Symbols associated with vision play a huge role in Animal Dreams. The eyeball dream, Doc's photographs, and the dark cave all mark stages of development in Codi's ability to remember her past and form her own identity.

    In a Dark, Dark Room

    There are a few scenes in Animal Dreams that take place in Doc's darkroom. Since this is a vestige of the arcane technology of film cameras, we should explain: darkrooms are dark. There are no windows—just a dim red light Doc keeps on while he develops photographs. Doc's way of turning pictures of one thing into pictures of something else entirely already reminds us of the way that he seems to edit his memories—the memory of the flood, for example—to make his actions more fatherly or loving.

    Later on, of course, Doc will himself see the link between his practices of developing these photographs and his altering of his own remembered past—sort of. He says that he makes the photographs in order to recreate images from his own memory (13.4). He also says that the idea that the family moved from Illinois is "our myth and every person in Grace believes it, because they want to. [...] If you change the present enough, history will bend to accommodate it" (23.37).

    The Eyes Have It

    Early on, Codi notices that the process of developing a photograph compares to the mechanics of the human eye. Doc takes photographs of things in the present in order to alter his vision of the past. For that reason, you could say he sees the past everywhere he looks, and then he tries to change the past.

    Good luck with that, Doc.

    Of course, this never really works: ultimately, the truth comes out, and he has to tell his daughter about her identity. What's amazing, though, is how keeping the truth of the past from Codi leaves her not with a wrong vision of who she is, exactly; it just leaves her with no vision. She's basically blind to her own identity as a consequence.

    This blindness is also shown to us symbolically in the first darkroom scene with Codi and Doc. Doc shuts out the lights without warning Codi he's about to do it, and it totally freaks her out: "He knew, but refused to accept, that I was afraid of the dark" (8.59).

    It's a moment, very much like Doc, that's both endearing and infuriating. The blackness makes Codi panic, and when she grabs Doc's upper arms in fear, he touches her knuckles to comfort her. It's an odd thing to do, but it's illustrative of the way he has raised Codi all along: he takes away her clear vision of her own past by lying about it, and then tries to fill in the void this creates with his own inadequate version of caring.

    The Memory Hole

    In the same chapter, we learn for the first time about what Carlo calls Codi's eyeball dream. In it, there's a shattering pop, like glass breaking, and Codi goes blind. It totally terrifies her. We'd be pretty scared, too.

    Ultimately, however, the dream is of two things, neither of them all that scary. On the one hand, darkness and blindness are symbolic of Codi's lack of identity. She gets that one figured out when the lights go off suddenly while she and Emelina are standing in a cave. She says, "[T]he terror of my recurring dream was not about losing just vision, but the whole of myself, whatever I was" (17.129).

    Memory = vision = identity. Got it?

    No? Well, Codi's nightmare of blindness is also key to her eventual reconstruction of the past. It all falls into place when Uda and Codi are cleaning out Doc's attic, and Codi uncovers the image of her own newborn eyes—which have the pure-bred genetic marker of Gracela descendants, in that they're an almost transparently light blue. The dream isn't a prophecy of doom to come, but a memory of birth.

    With this knowledge, Codi goes from being someone who can't remember the lady who baby-sat her at thirteen to being someone who can remember being born. It's also no mistake that the dream goes from being one about blindness to being one about light—the explosive light of the flash, and the lightness of Codi's newborn eyes. By learning the truth about her identity, Codi is finally able to fill in the darkness and blankness of her identity with true images of her own past.

  • Alzheimer's

    Doc calls himself "the only man on earth who can photograph the past" (13.4).

    Classic Doc arrogance.

    Of course, Doc is no more photographing the past than he is actually experiencing it when teenage Codi shows up in his doorway, five foot eleven and strangely thirty, or when he remembers the night he "rescued" his daughters from the flood.

    Doc's Alzheimer's is a fairly straightforward symbolic device in Animal Dreams, because its effect on his memory is actually pretty similar to how his mind worked before he began to be sick. Doc has always believed in reliving and altering the past, and as the boxes and boxes of mementos from his daughter's life stored up in the attic attest, he has always, in some ways, lived in that past, too. In the process, Doc loses his own identity. Without memory—or without real memories—we aren't who we are.

    Alzheimer's is a real disease, of course, but in Doc's case it's like a physical manifestation of what are also deeply psychological issues.

    Sometimes life mimics art, especially in art.

  • The Heart and the Liver

    In a scene that draws on Doc and Codi's shared medical experience, Doc makes the point that the human heart is the wrong organ to symbolize the fragile human ego. The heart is tough. It's easy to sew up it if there's a violent injury. His preferred symbolic organ would be the liver, and Codi says she knows just what he means:

    Once in ER I saw a woman who'd been stabbed everywhere, most severely in the liver. It's an organ with the consistency of layer upon layer of wet Kleenex. Every attempt at repair just opens new holes that tear and bleed. You try to close the wound with fresh wounds, and you try and you try and you don't give up until there's nothing left. (21.84)

    Closing the wound with fresh wounds is basically what Doc and Codi have tried to do in coming to Grace. It seems to be going better for them than it did for that poor lady in the ER.

  • Feet

    All throughout the text, Codi makes a huge deal of the orthopedic shoes she and Hallie had to wear. They both hated them, burning the catalogues when they arrived in the mail as kids so that their dad wouldn't be able to buy them. But what's the big deal? Seriously, Codi, you're not the first kid to ever have to wear lame shoes to school.

    The big deal is that Codi already feels like an outsider in Grace. The shoes made her feel like a total alien. She ditches them for a pair of gladiator sandals the second she's out of Grace and away from Doc's watchful eye. Yet when she and Uda are clearing out the attic, they find every pair of shoes he ever bought for them stored up in the attic, arranged in order of size.

    [Uda] bent over beside me and picked out one of the smallest shoes, cradling it like an orphaned bird.

    "Law, he was so careful about you girls and your feet. I remember thinking, Oh, mercy, when those girls get big enough to want heels there's going to be the Devil to pay."

    I laughed. "He wasn't just careful. He was obsessed."

    Uda looked down at me. "He just wanted awful bad for you kids to be good girls," she said. "It's hard for a man by himself, honey." (22.69-70)

    The image of Uda holding the shoe like an orphaned bird is pretty instructive, considering that Codi and Hallie are called "the orphans" by their neighbors. Basically, the shoes are a synecdoche for the Noline girls themselves.

    Symbolically, the shoes stand in for Doc's inadequate and misguided care for his daughters. Codi says outright that he almost never touched them unless her was measuring the bones of their feet, yet he kept every shoe. Those two facts say a lot about Doc—his belief in the importance of the bone structure of the foot is a way for him to try and set his girls up for good, happy, and healthy lives—but it takes the place of the kind of touch, affection, and attention that are essential to raising kids.

    At the same time, Doc's archiving of every pair of shoes the girls ever wore is a testament to his love for and attention to his daughters, an attention they never actually got to feel as little kids. Shoes, after all, are there to stand between the human body and the physical world. And they're no substitute for fatherly affection.

  • Cockfighting

    Throughout much of the novel, Loyd is a self-identified rooster-fighting man. In the one and only conversation we get to witness between Codi and J.T, who is Loyd's best friend, Loyd explains exactly why cockfights are so important to a laid-back guy like him.

    Basically, it's his one inheritance from his father. Loyd's dad was a legendary cockfighter in Apache country, and because he was also a drunk and a ne'er-do-well, "Loyd's old man didn't have one damn thing to give him but cockfighting" (11.18). Later, when we actually get to see a cockfight, it's useful to remember that the sport is understood as something that is passed from father to son. Codi describes the fight as "frankly sexual. Each time the men's hips rocked forward, the cocks dutifully bit each other's faces" (16.135).

    Whoa, hey there. Tone it down, okay? We've got students here.

    In addition to being bizarre and hilarious, this image magnifies the way that cockfighting stands in for a masculine tradition. We think it's fair to say that that tradition is undermined in Animal Dreams, where it comes to be seen as a violent, shortsighted, and ultimately inadequate inheritance.

    Loyd gives up the sport because he sees a link between its violence and his twin brother's early death. Instead of an inheritance from his father, Loyd opts for the inheritance of a peach orchard from his aunt. Symbolically, the rejection of cockfighting in Animal Dreams seems to be a rejection of patriarchal inheritance as a whole in favor of a kind of matriarchy.

  • Peacocks

    The peacocks of Grace, Arizona are an inheritance from the founders of the town, the Gracela sisters who came over from Spain to marry a bunch of miners, with their peacocks in tow. The peacocks are a symbol of Grace's history—remember that the Stitch and B**** club decides to sell their peacock piñatas with a history of Grace rolled up in their beaks.

    The peacocks are also a symbol for the matriarchal history of Grace: these birds are the opposite of the fighting cocks. That's why the piñatas are the symbol for the women's fight to save the town. The men, it's made clear, are content to try and use a lawsuit against the mine, not caring that it will take way too long to get any results. They're also the ones with the dynamiting skills, and while the women seem more than willing to use violence against Black Mountain, those skills stay with the men, who won't use them for fear of being arrested.

    Instead, the women use peacocks. The only kind of awkward thing here is that all their peacock piñatas represent male birds—peacocks, not peahens. Never fear—Kingsolver takes care of any possible misinterpretations of the symbolism here by having all of the male peacocks molt their impressive tails right after the Stitch and B**** river summit:

    On the way back Viola was quiet. She walked quickly, stopping only to pick up the feathers that littered the leafy orchard floor. The sudden cold snap that heralded the certainty of winter had caused the male peacocks to molt in unison. There being no hope of mating for months to come, they had shed their burdensome tails. (16.52).

    Basically, the males have directly passed their most powerful and impressive feature, their tails, on to the women to use.

  • War Twins

    The war twins are mentioned a few times by Loyd and then Codi, primarily in the chapters devoted to the trip that they take to Navajo and Pueblo lands. They come from a Tewa Pueblo story from the days when twins were supposed to be bad luck and were left to die.

    In the story, a woman sends her boys to Spider Grandmother instead of letting them die.

    Loyd's mother would compare him and Leander to the War Twins when they were bad. The story gives us some insight into Loyd's intense grief for his brother, but it's also here to show how important and also complicated Loyd's relationship is to his heritage. He identifies himself as Pueblo to Codi, but it's important that when she first tells us about him, she calls him Apache.

    Wait, why is that important?

    Since Loyd's father was Apache, and since Loyd was mainly living with him when he first knew Codi, Loyd's choice of tribe is an indication of his identity and allegiance. As a young man, he identified with his father, but as a grown man, he identifies with his mother much more.

    The transference of loyalties goes along with Loyd's rejection of cockfighting, but the War Twins story also shows how complicated that rejection. Sent out of their community as babies by their mother, the War Twins, like Loyd and Leander, are exiles from their own people.

    In the same scene, Loyd will insist that ultimately, Leander died "because we left the Pueblo. We were like the War Twins, I guess. A lot for our mother to handle" (18.38). The War Twins stand in for Loyd's complicated sense of exile from and belonging to both his Apache and Pueblo families.

    Codi's not the only one with issues. She's just way worse at dealing with them.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Codi and Hallie), and Third-Person (Doc)

    Animal Dreams switches betweentwo narrators, Homer "Doc" Noline, and Cosima "Codi" Noline—although you could make the case that Hallie's letters up the number of narrators to three. Codi is the main character. It's her journey we're on, and her voice tells most of the story in first person; both Doc's chapters and Hallie's letters are short.

    Hallie's letters are shown to us through the lens of Codi's perspective at some times, but at other times, they stand on their own in first person, too. Doc's chapters, on the other hand, are shown in an intimate third-person. The pronouns are "he" and "his," but the narrator also seems to be entirely in Doc's head, seeing what he sees and thinking what he thinks in real time.

    Why does Kingsolver even include Doc and Hallie in the narrative if it's all about Codi? Because Animal Dreams is fundamentally a novel about memory. Doc has Alzheimer's, and the wild shifts between past and present in his sections allow us to see parts of Codi and Hallie's childhood that Codi doesn't even remember, or never knew about in the first place.

    Importantly, the technique also lets us know how wrong Codi is about certain aspects of her upbringing. For example, she thinks Doc has never really loved her, but we know from Chapter One on that he always has, even if he chooses to show that love by never ever touching his daughters unless he's measuring their feet for orthopedic shoes.

    Both Doc's letters and Hallie's give us some distance from Codi's relentlessly negative ideas about herself, and they help us see Codi for the unreliable narrator she is. In addition, the distance between Doc's and Codi's perspectives sets up one of the important conflicts of the novel: only when Codi learns to own her own past will she feel at home, either in Grace or in her own head.

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis


    A Young Hero or Heroine Falls under the Shadow of the Dark Power.

    Codi Noline is trapped under the shadow of directionlessness, hopelessness, and low self-esteem. Her little sister has left the country for Nicaragua and has taken the better half of Codi with her. Codi believes that without her sister, she has little to offer the world, despite years of education that almost culminated in being licensed to practice medicine like her dad. Now she works at a 7-Eleven and can't tell the difference between her own real memories and ones she made up.

    To top it off, Codi has to return to the scene of her own youthful misery: to a hometown where she was an outcast, and to a father whose mind is falling apart.

    For a While, All May Seem to go Reasonably Well. The Threat May Even Seem to Have Receded.

    Things go pretty well in Grace. Codi has a job as a high school teacher and finds she's pretty good at that. She starts dating her high school ex-boyfriend, the guy who unknowingly got her pregnant at fifteen, and he's great. The people of Grace seem to accept her, asking for her help to save the town from an evil, polluting mining company, and her best friend surrounds her with family. She's even beginning to recover her memories, one by one.

    But Eventually It Approaches Again in Full Force until the Hero or Heroine is Seen Imprisoned in the State of Living Death.

    When Hallie is kidnapped and killed, Codi is overwhelmed by her feelings of uselessness and inadequacy. Also, nothing is permanent, she thinks, so what's the point of getting attached? She runs away from Grace and all of the relationships she has built there, intending to return to her life on the road, like a politically correct Jack Kerouac with a Billy Idol haircut.

    This Continues for a Long Time. When It Seems that the Dark Power Has Completely Triumphed…

    Actually, this continues for a very short time—like, maybe a couple of chapters. Codi plans to leave Grace for Colorado, then she does leave Grace. She's a total zombie, dragging her suitcase up onto the bus and not even saying goodbye to Emelina. She passes a dump on the way out of town and is like, Yaaaasssss, that is my liiiiiiiife.

    But Finally Comes the Miraculous Redemption: Either, Where the Imprisoned Figure Is a Heroine; or, Where It is the Hero, by a Young Woman or a Child.

    So it's definitely miraculous. Codi's plane refuses to take off, until Codi is proverbially washed, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, back up on the shores of her destined destination. It is indeed both a young woman and a child that bring her back. On the one hand, there's a teenager on the plane being annoyed at her annoying parents, and Codi is like, Way to stick it to your annoying parents. She remembers how much she likes teaching high school—and also kissing her boyfriend Loyd.

    Then Codi gets redeemed by the burial of Hallie, which is in turn a kind of burial for Codi's pain of having lost her own first child. She's basically free from the burdens of her past and is reborn as the hometown girl she always wanted to be.

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition (Initial Situation): Things Fall Apart

    Life's not looking too good for Codi Noline. She's a med school dropout who works at a 7-Eleven; she's broken up with her boyfriend; her estranged father has Alzheimer's; and her sister and Hallie has just left the country to go plant cotton in war-torn Nicaragua. Codi goes to Grace, Arizona, the town where she grew up, to try and take care of her dad. It's just another stop on that old highway of life.

    Rising Action (Conflict, Complication): Girl Meets Dog

    Weirdly, things aren't actually that bad in Grace. Codi's living with her best friend, dating her own former high school boyfriend, and teaching high school biology—which is actually kind of fun. It's too bad Codi totally hates Grace, and Grace totally hates Codi, or she might be able to settle in there.

    The only other problem is that Grace is doomed: the mining company that owns basically all of the land and water around has been poisoning the river with sulfuric acid. On top of that, the company wants to divert the river altogether, so basically Grace has about three years of existence left.

    Climax (Crisis, Turning Point): Making History

    The climax begins when things in Grace seem, terrifyingly, to be working out. Codi starts remembering parts of her childhood. Her relationship with Emelina is super fulfilling, and she and Loyd are falling in love. The Stitch and B**** ladies have a plan to save Grace by selling peacock piñatas, and it's actually working. In spite of all of this, Codi is still planning to leave in a few months to go and hang out in Colorado with her ex-boyfriend, Carlo. When Doc and Codi learn that Hallie has been kidnapped in Nicaragua, Codi really starts to fall apart.

    Falling Action: Collective Memory

    Out of guilt, Codi's leaving in just a month or so, and she dumps Loyd. She still goes around his place for a little bit of that train-driver magic on the low, but for the most part, she spends her time writing to everyone she can think of with pleas to save Hallie.

    While that's happening, the women's plan to save their town starts to bear fruit. Their piñatas have received some coverage, and an art collector has come to town and shown the ladies of Grace how to get their town on the historical registry. Meanwhile, it's becoming clear to Codi that she and her family are not, in fact, outsiders in Grace. There seem to be super old graves in the graveyard with Doc Homer's name on them.

    Resolution (Denouement): There's No Place Like Home

    The plot begins to resolve when Codi and Doc learn that Hallie is dead. Codi is totally devastated, and she leaves town. Fortunately, fate intervenes, and her plane is sent back to Tucson after a failed engine makes everyone on board confront his or her own mortality. Codi catches a train back to Grace and flies into the arms of Loyd. Then she plans a kind of funeral for Hallie.

    The novel ends with a flash-forward to a couple of years later. Codi is pregnant, presumably with Loyd's baby, and Doc is dead. Codi's caring for Doc's grave when Viola takes her to see the place where Codi's mother died, confirming a memory that Codi has had—and thought she invented—her whole life.

  • Three-Act Plot Analysis

    Act I

    From the beginning of the book until roughly Chapter 25, Codi is still basically planning to run off at any minute. She hated growing up in Grace, and she doesn't want to get stuck there, so no amount of kindly grandmothers and sexy cock-fighting high school boyfriends is going to change her mind.

    Act II

    Act Two really starts when Codi gets roped into helping save the town from the Black Mountain Mining Company. It's the moment when she realizes that the people of Grace don't reject her. Add to that the fact that she's pretty clearly in love with Loyd, has a family with Emelina, and finally learns that she's actually as pure a specimen of the Grace, Arizona gene pool as anyone, and it looks like all Codi has to do is click her heels three times together and she'll find herself at home.

    You know, until Hallie gets kidnapped and everything falls apart.

    Act III

    Codi abandons Loyd, Emelina, her job, and Grace, and runs away. But then an airplane malfunction sends Codi back to Grace, where she finds herself wrapped in the loving arms of her man, and she lives happily ever after.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    • Henry David Thoreau, Walden (8.70)
    • Robert Frost, "Death of a Hired Hand" (16.86)
    • Spider Woman and the War Twins (19)
    • Pueblo Dances (20)
    • Gertrude Stein (18)

    Historical References

    • The Sandinistas (throughout)
    • The Contras (throughout)
    • The Anasazi ruins at Canyon de Chelly (19.60)
    • Kinishba (12.76)
    • Nancy Reagan (2.16)
    • The Iran hostage crisis (25.95)

    Pop Culture References

    • Billy Idol (2.16 )
    • Malibu Barbie (2.16)
    • Thin Lizzie, "Rosa Lee" (7.35)
    • The New York Times (18.103)
    • McDonald's (18.106)
    • Dallas Cowboys (18.120)
    • Stone Washed Jeans (20.138, 21.8)
    • Gunsmoke (23.65)
    • CBS News comes to interview the Doña (21.93)