Study Guide

Animal Dreams Home and Family

By Barbara Kingsolver

Home and Family

He watches his daughter, though there's nothing to watch, and thinks these words: "A great-grandmother who isn't their business." He decides this will be their last year for the cemetery and the Day of All Souls. There are too many skeletons down there. People count to long on the oblivion of children. (1.4)

Look, folks: a clue. Keep it in mind when you watch Codi finding the old Nolina gravestones in Chapter 14. Seriously, though, how is your great-grandmother none of your business? Kingsolver uses an interesting trick here when she supplies the line "and thinks these words." She removes Doc's words from context, so we won't know whether it's other people's grandmas that the girls should be avoiding or their own until later on. It's not a cheap authorial sleight of hand, though, because this is exactly what Doc does do with memories and with photographs. By changing context, he changes the meaning of things.

I was a stranger to Grace. I'd stayed away fourteen years and in my gut I believe I was hoping that had changed: I would step off the bus and land smack in the middle of a sense of belonging. Ticker tape, apologies, the luxury of forgiveness, home at last. Grace would turn out to be the yardstick I'd been using to measure all other places, like the mysterious worn out photo that storybook orphans carry from place to place, never realizing till the end that it's really their home.

None of this happened. Grace looks like a language I didn't speak. (2.19-20)

This is our first summary of how terrible Codi feels about her hometown. Basically, she feels that it isn't home. She's always waiting for a sense of belonging to drop in her lap. The irony here is, of course, that Grace kind of thinks it's a language she doesn't speak, too. Specifically, Codi doesn't speak Spanish; she just hasn't revealed that to any of the people who live in Grace, which is kind of shady. So who's shutting out whom, Codi Noline?

"You know what you are, Codi? I don't know if there's a word for it, but it's the opposite of 'homemaker.'"

"I laughed. She was still distressed by my blank walls. "There's a word. Home wrecker. But I'm not one."

"No I don't mean in the sense of home wrecker. I mean in the sense of home ignorer."

"Oh, that way," I said. I was playing dumb. I knew what she meant. [...] What I failed at was the activity people call "nesting." For me, it never seemed like nesting season had arrived yet. Or I wasn't that kind of bird. (8.91-4)

Maybe she's a fighting cock instead. Or a peacock made out of encyclopedias. In any case, note that pretty soon, Codi starts collecting peacock feathers in her little house, something Doc used to prohibit because he was afraid of bird mites. There is symbolism here, friends, symbolism as loud as an alarmed peahen.

Slowly I was patching together Loyd's life, and it was not the poor little gypsy story I'd imagined. I supposed I'd wanted to see him as a fellow orphan. But everywhere he'd been, he's been with family. (18.134)

Part of what's important about this realization is that it fits with Loyd's significance in Codi's life. He's good for her exactly because he's impossible to misinterpret. He won't let Codi rewrite him as a TV Indian or a sad little orphan baby; he is who he is, and he's super straightforward about it. Loyd cuts right through all of Codi's fictions and is aggressively well adjusted. Who knew that could be a thing?

"These men don't see how we got to do something right now. They think the trees can die and we can just go somewhere else, and as long as we fry up the bacon for them in the same old pan, they think it would be..." she falters, hugging her elbows in earnest..."that it would be home." (16.52)

This is sort of kind of news to Codi, who has been travelling the world with her proverbial bacon pan for a long time. But the point here is that it isn't enough to just have your stuff somewhere: home is attached to place.

Our old house with its bolted-down flowerpots stood eerily untouched, inside and out. Carlo had let all the plants finish dying, as expected, but beyond that he'd made no effort to make the place his own. He seemed to be living like a man in mourning, not wishing it disturb the traces of a deceased wife. Or wives. (17.31)

This is probably a sign that Carlo is not very good for Codi, since he's, if anything, worse at nesting than she is. He also kills plants. We'd go so far as to venture that Carlo is the sulfuric acid of Codi's identity development.

"Sometimes I still have American dreams. I mean literally. I see microwave ovens and exercise machines and grocery-store shelves with thirty brands of shampoo, and I look at these things oddly, in my dream. I stand and I think, 'What is all this for? What is the hunger that drives this need?' I think its fear. Codi, I hope you won't be hurt by this but I don't think I'll ever be going back. I don't think I can." (23.185)

Coming from one of Hallie's last letters, this paragraph is pretty important. One of the reasons that Codi is able to come to terms with Hallie's death is that Hallie dies doing exactly what she wants to be doing and in the process has found her home. That's something Codi can admire, even if Hallie does ignore the undeniable convenience of microwave ovens. Come on, who doesn't like pizza bagels?

I looked at him, surprised. "But then you've lost your house."

"Not if you know how to build another one. All these great pueblos like at Kinishba—people lived in them awhile, and then they'd move on. Just leave them standing. Maybe go to a place with better water, or something."

"I thought they were homebodies."

Loyd rubbed his hand thoughtfully over my palm. Finally he said, "The important thing isn't the house. It's the ability to make it. You carry that in your brain and in your hands, wherever you go. Anglos are like turtles, if they go someplace they have to carry the whole house along in their damn Winnesotas." (19.83)

Here's Loyd's take on the relationship between bacon pans and nests. At first, it seems like he's agreeing with the husbands of Grace, who think that home is where your wife makes your breakfast. If we look a little closer though, we can see that Loyd means that it's relationships, not stuff, that makes a home. And that includes relationships to the land.

"So you, what, ran off to the army. Got yourself educated on the G.I. Bill, and came back here as the mighty prodigal doctor with his beautiful new wife, and acted like nobody could touch you."
I watched him closely, but could read nothing. [...] He poured coffee into two mugs and gave the larger one to me.

"Thank you," I said.

"You're welcome." (23.75-6)

This is a great moment, just because it compresses so much of Codi and Doc's relationship into one exchange. She gets him pretty thoroughly, but part of getting him is accepting that he's an inscrutable old guy. And Doc is awful. He makes terrible decisions and is so repressed that he's deliberately erased his own past and that of his daughters. But at the same time, he really, really loves the girls, and Kingsolver shows it, overtly in Doc's own portions of the narrative, and subtly in moments like this one, when he gives Codi the larger of the two cups of coffee right in the middle of her ripping him apart.

I remembered every toy, every birthday party, each one of these fifty mothers who'd been standing at the edges of my childhood, ready to make whatever contribution was needed at the time. [...] I was feeling a little more steady on my feet. I folded in the corners and drew it up into a bundle against my chest. About everything Hallie and I had ever done was with us there in the Domingos orchard. Everything we'd been I was now. (26.22-7)

This is the moment when Codi realizes that she's always had a family in Grace, even if she didn't remember it. This moment is deeply important to the narrative, and it's also a little complicated: for a person who likes the idea of being as free from materialism as a coyote, Codi's memories seem to be pretty soundly tied to stuff.

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