Study Guide

Animal Dreams Animals

By Barbara Kingsolver

Animals

[Nicholas] spotted a hummingbird. It buzzed around the red tubes of a potted penstamon that stood by itself in the center of the courtyard. His eyes followed the bird as it darted up and down, a high-strung gem; Nicholas wanted it. For a long time he frowned at the brick path that lay between himself and the bird, and then he let go of the wall. He took one step and then more, buoyed up by some impossible anti-gravity. After two steps the hummingbird was gone, but Nicholas still headed for the air it had occupied, his hands grasping at vapor. (22.18)

On the one hand, here's a perfect scene of the human as animal, headed for the shiny thing. On the other hand, the hummingbird might represent something more—if it's the shining goal that Hallie went down to Nicaragua to follow, does that mean her sacrifice is worth it even if the revolution she was aiming for doesn't succeed?

I felt like a baby being coaxed, reluctantly, into dreamland. A few yards away, Jack was already there. His legs jerked helplessly, making him look vulnerable.

[...]

"What's Jack dreaming about?"

"Chasing rabbits," Loyd said.

"That's what everybody says, but I don't think all dogs dream about that. You watch a city dog that's never even heard of a rabbit—it'll do the same thing."

"How do you know they really dream?"

"They do. All mammals that have been tested have REM sleep, except spiny anteaters." [...]

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. God, when I used to work for Tia sorting the pecans I'd go to sleep and dream about pecans, pecans, pecans." (12.140-155)

This is where we discover that Loyd is the perfect man—which is to say, he's a lot like his perfect dog: he dreams about what he does all day.

I've studied a lot of biology; I quickly figured out that this industry was built around a bird's natural impulse for territorial defense, and that's where it broke down. No animal has reason to fight its own kind to the death. A rooster will defend his ground, but once that's established, he's done. After that he tends to walk around ignoring the bizarre surroundings and all the people who have next month's rent riding on him and he'll just act like a chicken—the animal that he is. The handlers had to keep taking the birds firmly in hand, squaring them off and trying to force the fight. (16.144)

Kingsolver talks a lot in this book about the day-to-day things animals do under normal circumstances. In fact, these actions sort of a moral yardstick for the human actions in this book. So, is it the fact that cockfighting involves pushing the animals beyond their natural impulses that makes cockfighting wrong? Or is this scene making a larger point about the unnaturalness of all violence, human violence included?

There were some kind of little animals too, like mongooses. You would know what they are. I'm happy to be in a jungle again. You know me, I'm always cheered by the sight of houseplants growing wild and fifty feet tall. (9.72)

It's interesting to note that Hallie also ascribes to Codi's idea that the two of them sort of split the world down the middle. On the other hand, everything in the world is interrelated, so the idea of opposites my just be an illusion.

Jack got up and went to the courtyard wall. He stood as still as a rock fence except for one back leg, which trembled, betraying all the contained force of whatever it was he wanted to do just then, but couldn't. After a minute he came back to Loyd's feet, turned his body in a tight circle two or three times, and lay down with a soft moan.

"Why do they do that? Turn in circles like that?" I asked. I'd never lived with a dog and was slightly infatuated with Jack.

"Beating down the tall grass to make a nice little nest," Loyd said. "Even if there's no tall grass."

"Well, I guess that makes sense, from a dog's point of view."

"Sure it does." He bent forward to scratch Jack between the ears. "We take these good, smart animals and put them in a house and then wonder why they keep on doing the stuff that made them happy for a million years. A dog can't think that much about what he's doing, he just does that feels right." (9.109-113)

See, even Jack knows how to make a better nest than Codi. She has a lot to learn from this highly symbolic dog.

"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)

There's tension here between the human and the animal. It might be good to be like a coyote and be able to make home wherever you find it, but we also know that this very thing is sort of Codi's problem: she just turns around in the grass and calls it home without really ever feeling at home. Humans might need something more, and at this point, Codi still hasn't figured out what that is for her.

Loyd was sitting outside, drinking coffee under the huge mesquite that shaded his front yard. [...] He looked very happy to see me but also unsurprised; typical, maddening Loyd. Jack betrayed excitement in his thumping tail, but Loyd made no sudden movements. He let me come to him, bend over to kiss him, sit down in the chair beside him. I was oddly conscious of his skill with animals. (23.80)

There's a bunch of other stuff in there about Loyd's sweatpants and his wet hair, but we'll let you go to the book for that. Suffice it to say that Loyd is ringmaster to the circus of Codi's heart.

"You know what Loyd told me one time?"

"No."

"He thinks people's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around." (27.45-6)

It's pretty moving when Codi shares Loyd's insight with her father, partly because she admires his devotion to his own vocation, but also, in this instance, because what he's done every day is be her dad—even if he did it extremely weirdly.

Loyd was sitting outside drinking coffee under the huge mesquite that shaded his front yard. [...]. He looked very happy to see me but also unsurprised. Typical, maddening Loyd. Jack betrayed excitement in his thumping tail, but Loyd made no sudden movements. He let me come over to him, bend over to kiss him, sit down in the chair beside him. I was oddly conscious of his skill with animals. (23.80)

Sometimes it feels kind of problematic that Codi continually compares Loyd to an animal, but in this scene, we see that she thinks a lot about how she's pretty much an animal herself.

In town, the 4-H Club had set up a display of rabbits and fancy chickens in cages in front of the courthouse. A little country fair was planned for Easter weekend. The rabbits were of an odd-looking breed but all exactly alike, fancily marked with black-tipped ears and paws and a gorget under the throat, and it occurred to me how much simpler life would be if people were like that, all identically marked. If I were not the wrong breed. I corrected an old habit of thought: both my parents were born in Grace[.] (23.63)

Of course, everyone in Grace is marked with identical genetic signs—their blue eyes. Codi has them, too. It's interesting that even though Codi knows she's puro by now, she's still whining about being an outcast. Is she just attached to the idea of feeling left out?

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