Study Guide

Animal Dreams Memory

By Barbara Kingsolver

Memory

This is my problem—I clearly remember things I haven't seen, sometimes things that never happened. And draw a blank on the things I've lived through. (5.97)

Codi's big point here is that without a sense of what's true, it's difficult to trust an idea of who you are. Notice how she is always putting herself down? We think she might remember some of that stuff wrong.

Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin. (5.98)

Memory is like, "Sure, I'll hang out with you at the reunion, truth, but I'm not buying a two-thousand-dollar plane ticket for your destination wedding in Guam." In other words, memory and truth aren't the same thing, and sometimes they don't even get along. Just because you remember something, that doesn't mean it's true.

As plainly as anything then, I remembered trying to save the coyotes from the flood. My ears filled with the roar of the flooded river and my nose with the strong stench of mud. I gripped the armrest of Loyd's truck to keep the memory from drowning my senses. I heard my own high voice commanding Hallie to stay with me. And then, later, asking Doc Homer, "Will they go to heaven?" I couldn't hear his answer, probably because he didn't have one. (16.177)

When Codi remembers things from her past, it's totally immersive. Like Doc, she seems to travel in time in her thoughts. It's sort of ironic that her memory, when she does have it, is so incredibly vivid—maybe an indication of the fact that she feels things deeply in general.

How does he reach them? A Boat? No, that wouldn't have been possible. He sits up again. He has no clear image of reaching them, no memory of their arms on his neck, he only hears them crying over the telephone. And then he understands painfully that he wasn't able to go to them. There is no memory because he wasn't there. (3.6-7)

Doc's memories are constructed, like his photographs. They're ways to deal with regrets and mistakes by changing the past. Unlike his pics, though, these memories are not necessarily successful deceptions. What keeps his memories from fooling him?

The darkroom was the nearest I'd ever come to feeling like I had a dad. We stood there talking and watched a gray image grow on the paper like some fungus with a mind of its own. I thought about the complex chemistry o vision, remembering from medical school the textbook diagrams of an image projected through the eyeball, temporarily inscribed on the retina.

"I never thought about how printing photographs duplicates eyesight," I said. "It's the exact process in slow motion."

He nodded appreciatively and my heart warmed. I'd pleased him. (8.47-8)

It's pretty sad to watch Codi hanging out with her dad in this early scene, knowing that the only way to please him is to participate in his weird hobby of reconstructing the past to match what he prefers would have happened. Something tells us that in order to get out of the darkroom, Codi's going to have to, er, see the light.

"She used to take care of us?" I'd been trying all day to place her. I couldn't believe I'd draw a complete blank on someone who'd been a fixture of my childhood.

"Sure. Uda's husband Eddie saved you and Hallie's life that time when you got stranded in a storm down by the crick."

[...]

Emelina looked at me peculiarly, as if she thought I might be pulling her leg. "It was a real big deal. There was a picture in the paper of you two and Eddie the big hero, and his mule."

"I guess I do remember," I said, but I didn't, and it bothered me that my childhood was everyone's property but my own. (8.82-90)

This one is important mostly because it shows us the extent of Codi's damage: her memory is so bad that she can't remember the woman who took care of her until she was fifteen. And remember, Emelina confirms that Uda, who used to take care of the girls, was important, while Doc is all, Her? Yeah, she's totally immaterial to your life. Basically, we're seeing some lines forming, with Doc and his magical memory erasure factory on one side, and Emelina, with her clarity and compassion, on the other. Codi, of course, is stuck right in the middle.

All his photographs begin in his memory. That is the point. He might be the only man on earth who can photograph the past. (13.4)

Just like when a friend of yours is bragging that she can totally handle wearing a beard made out of living bees, this is one of those situations where someone is super proud of himself for doing something that's basically a terrible idea.

Codi, please tell me what you hear about this. I can't stand to think it could be the same amnesiac thing, big news for one day and then forgotten. Nobody here can eat or talk. There are dark stains all over the cement floor of the church. It's not a thing you forget. (16.58)

Hello, foreshadowing. You're going to want to remember this one later, when Hallie has been kidnapped and Codi is trying to get the government to pay attention.

Then, for just a minute—they always have to do this—he turned off the lights. The darkness was absolute. I grabbed for Emelina's arm as the ceilings and walls came rushing up to me face. I felt choked by my own tongue. [...] And then while we all still waited I understood that the terror of my recurring dream was not about losing just vision, but the whole of myself, whatever that was. What you lose win blindness is the space around you, the place where you are, and without that you might no exist. You could be nowhere at all. (17.129)

The thing about this quote is that while it doesn't immediately seem connected to memory, it is—first because Codi is remembering her reoccurring dream, which of course turns out to be a memory from being born, but also because in Animal Dreams, vision, memory, and identity are connected. Here Codi is connecting blindness to ignorance of her own past and to her own lack of self-knowledge. If we're putting together a thesis on vision, memory and identity in this novel, then this quote is central.

This is what I remember: Viola is holding my hand. We're at the edge of the field, far from other people. We stand looking out into the middle of that ocean of alfalfa. I can see my mother there, a small white bundle with nothing left, and I can see that it isn't a tragedy we're watching, really. Just a finished life. (28.20-22)

If you're writing on memory in Animal Dreams, this is one quote you're going to have to deal with no matter what. Basically, Kingsolver ends the book with a meditation on memory, but it's pretty interesting, because isn't what Viola says a lot like what Doc has said about memory, and like what Codi rejects: the idea that it's the same thing as truth? And notice how this memory of holding hands with Viola suddenly becomes the memory of watching her mother's body come out of the helicopter? Is Codi remembering, or is she reconstructing her memory as not-tragedy? What would either interpretation mean for the text as a whole?

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