Study Guide

Animal Dreams What's Up With the Ending?

By Barbara Kingsolver

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.

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