Study Guide

Animal Dreams Plants

By Barbara Kingsolver

Plants

Our home fell apart when she left. She was our center of gravity, the only one of us who saw life as a controllable project. Carlo was an orphan like me. We forgot all about the jade plants, they went crisp as potato chips out on the porch, and Carlo withered as if he needed water also. (2.10)

So, Carlo is a plant, and Loyd is an animal. This explains so much, since Codi is an animal-lover, and it's her sister who's the plant.

And somehow Hallie thrived anyway—the blossom of our family, like one of those miraculous fruit trees that taps into an invisible vein of nurture and bears radiant bushels of plums while the trees around it merely go on living. In Grace, in the old days when people found one of those in their orchard they called it the semilla besada—the seed that got kissed. Sometimes you'd run across one that people had come to, and returned to, in homes of a blessing. The branches would be festooned like a Christmas tree of family tokens: a baby sock, a pair of broken reading glasses, the window envelope of a pension check. (5.102)

This is that tricky kind of foreshadowing when it looks good things are coming until you get to the part about the Day of the All Souls and realize that the graves are decorated in the same way the trees are. Yay, Hallie is a tree. Wait, Hallie is a grave? Uh oh.

Emelina was up with the chickens. I heard her outside in the courtyard pulling honeysuckle vines away from the old brick barbecue with a peculiar zipping sound, like threads from a seam in rotten cloth. (7.1)

The general fecundity of Emelina's garden—from the honeysuckle-covered barbecue to the plants and flowers and the goats and hummingbirds that roam around it—works as a symbol that's opposed to Carlo's dead houseplants. Emelina can nurture anything or anyone, even Codi. Carlo? Not so much.

A pretty, old carob tree stood near the door of the liquor store, throwing dappled shade on the sidewalk. I knew that its twisted, woody-looking pods could be crunched between the teeth and tasted like cocoa. I sat on a concrete block and leaned my back against the trunk. [...] I looked up at the leathery leaves. Hallie had told me carobs were dioecious, which means that male and female parts are possessed by separate individuals. In plain English, they're like us; it takes two to tango. This one was loaded with fruit, but there wasn't another carob tree in sight. I looked all the way down the main street and down toward the depot. No male carobs. I patted the trunk sympathetically. (7.28)

Codi would like someone to make carob pods with. It's interesting that she compares herself so strongly to a tree here, given that it's Hallie who's supposed to be the plant in this family.

Needing to be awesome to appreciate plants [...] It's hard to get people interested in animals that have no discernable heads, tails, fins, or the like—and plants, forget it. There's no drama [...]. They don't even eat, except in the most passive sense. In college, I knew a botany professor who always went around saying, "It takes a superior mind to appreciate a plant." Halie and I were a case in point, I guess. We divided the world in half, right from childhood. I was the one who went in for instant gratification, catching bright, quick butterflies, chloroforming them in a Mason jar and pinning them into typewritten tags with their Latin names. Hallie's tastes were quieter; she had time to watch things grow. She transplanted wildflowers and showed an aptitude for gardening. At age ten she took over the responsibility of the Burpee's catalogue. (11.45)

This is yet another example of Codi treating Hallie as if she were a foil, when really the two sisters are much more similar than they are different.

The tropics are such a gaudy joke: people have to live with every other kind of poverty, but a fortune in flowers, growing out of every nook and cranny of anything. If you could just build an economy on flowers. I stayed in a house that had vanilla orchids growing out of the gutters and a banana tree comping up under the kitchen sink. I swear. (12.9)

This is interesting in the context of Codi's characterization of Hallie as semilla besada—a seed that's been kissed—because, again, where Codi sees something blessed and miraculous, Hallie sees something that, while lovely and good, is still desperately inadequate. We wonder if Hallie also feels desperately inadequate to the size of the challenges facing her?

Our old house with its bolted-down flower pots 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. (17.31)

Carlo's inability to nurture Codi is evinced by his lack of a green thumb. He can't even take care of plants—how is he supposed to take care of human beings? What kind of doctor is he going to make? We wonder.

"How long will Grace last without the river?" I asked.

"Two or three year, maybe. The old orchards will go longer because their roots are deeper." He glanced at me. "You know I have an orchard?"

"No. In Grace?"

"Yep. [...] But the orchard's not mine till I have kids."

"That doesn't seem fair."

"No, it makes sense. When you have a family, you need trees." (18.135-146)

Here we have Loyd seducing Codi with his deep, deep roots. All kidding aside, Loyd's commitment to place is part of what makes him so good for Codi.

"Well," Alice said, apparently remembering it was garden pests we'd agreed to talk about.
"What would you do for the slugs?"

"I really don't know, I'm not good with plants." I considered the problem for a while. "I think what Hallie used to do was put beer out for them, in little tin cans. The slugs are attracted to it and they fall in, or something. I know that sounds crazy but I'm pretty sure it's right. (25.104-5)

What's so important about slug beer, you ask? Well, aside from the delightful image of a bunch of beer-swilling slugs hanging out in their lederhosen and enjoying a nice, terminal Oktoberfest, there's the point that this exchange marks the fact that Codi is beginning to accept that she doesn't have to just leave her connection to her sister behind now that Hallie is dead. She can't run away from it.

"You might want to have a garden here again someday. When this house is yours."

[...]

"You can't really approve of me staying, can you?" she demands, suddenly angry. "You raised me to turn my back on this place. That worked for you, but the difference is you knew it was really your home. You knew you had one. So you had a choice."

"That's all very well and good," he says, "but you still might want a garden. These artichoke bushes still produce. Every summer they bloom as if their hearts depended on it. Never mind that there was nobody taking in the harvest." He takes the tip of a silvery leaf between his fingers. It looks knifelike, but is yielding and soft. (27.9-19)

Doc for the symbolic win—he cuts through all of Codi's anger about old miseries to basically be like, Yeah, fine, you're mad, but you've still got everything here, and everything ahead of you, and it's totally going to be fine.

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