From Beast Folk to Great Apes. About the Significance of Animal Others in Dystopian Literature

Master's Thesis, 2013
75 Pages, Grade: 1.0



1. Introduction: The Animal-Human Paradigm and Dystopian Literature. 2

2. The Theoretical Concept of the ‘Other’ 10

3. The Depiction of Animals in Relevant Dystopias against the Backdrop of the ‘Other’ 14

3.1 Animals within the Naturalistic Register. 14

3.2 Animals as Dramatis Personae. 18

4. Principal Effects of Utilising Animals in Dystopian Literature. 30

4.1 Questioning the Animal-Human Dichotomy. 41

4.2 Emphasising Inherent Human Vices. 41

4.2.1 Evil Human Nature. 41

4.2.2 Selfishness. 44

4.3 Questioning Human Culture and Society. 47

4.3.1 General Societal Criticism.. 47

4.3.2 Animal Experiments and Abusive Animal Treatment 50

4.3.3 Politics. 53

4.3.4 Exploitation and Racism.. 56

4.3.5 Religion. 59

4.3.6 Anti-Utopian Criticism.. 60

5. Conclusion: About the Overall Significance of Dystopian Animal ‘Others’ 62

6. Works Cited. 67

1. Introduction: The Animal-Human Paradigm and Dystopian Literature

From antiquity to the present, Western authors have drawn a dichotomy between

mankind and animals. Yet it is hard to determine what constitutes the distinction as Sax queries: “Is it our intellect? Emotion? Stupidity? Technology? Tragic destiny? Religion? Language? Success? Morality? Wickedness? Power? War? Our use of fire? Our upright stance?” (xviii). Although this question remains unsettled, the animal-human dichotomous paradigm has been utilised to define what it means to be human - not to be an animal. It has even been extended to deny members of mankind their humanity by adding animal connotations to certain aspects of identity, such as race or gender. Hence, a notion of animality becomes attached to the difference of others, which renders them vulnerable to oppression (Seago and Armbruster vii). The animal-human dichotomy constitutes a part of humankind’s cultural heritage and can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy as well as the

Abrahamic religions. While the Presocratics held an anthropocentric world view

and believed in the continuity of all living things, they acknowledged differences

between the two species and posited men superior to animals albeit not as definitely

as later thinkers would do (Batra and Messier 3). In the Book of Genesis, however, Man’s dominion over- and hierarchical relationship to animals becomes more distinct. Man was created subsequent to animals, and God granted him dominion over the animal kingdom (Gen 1.28). Moreover, Adam implements his ascendancy over all animals by providing them with names (Gen 2.19-20). Batra and Messier adduce further arguments to this debate (2-3). They underline the fact that all monotheistic religions of Abrahamic tradition comprise a polarised animal-human relationship - unlike men, non-human animals are not endowed with a soul. With Noah, God imparted the divine sanction of human supremacy for the second time. While men “… shalt not kill” (Ex 20.13), other verses permit Noah the slaughter of animals for the sake of consuming their meat (Gen 9.3). It were medieval Christian scholars, such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, who then synthesised ancient Greek views of

nature with Christian doctrine and further supported the division between animals

and humans. This dichotomy persisted during the ensuing centuries to remain virtually untouched by Lutheran Protestantism (Batra and Messier 4) and early modern philosophy. Descartes, most remarkably, pursued a mechanic concept of beings. He regarded animals as machines devoid of any soul, mind or even consciousness (Hatfield). Not before the nineteenth century did a gradual rethinking process begin in some fields of advanced study.

At this point, however, the existence of other animal-human concepts in mankind’s cultural heritage should be touched upon briefly. Welz intimates that a notion of equality between human beings and animals, both endowed with an immortal soul, plays a central role in ancient pagan religions and customs (38).

Certain Eastern religions provide a second contradictory view, most notably Buddhism and Hinduism. Through believing in reincarnation, the role of animals

does not itself become separated from members of mankind; and, although animal rebirth indicates a lower caste in Hinduism, the idea of human domination is not so prominent (Gordon 333). Hinduism furthermore stresses the role of animals by certain venerated species (i.e. cows, snakes and monkeys) as well as distinctive Hindu deities, such as Vishnu whose reincarnations comprise animal manifestations. Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches along with Hinduism that humans may be reborn as animals, resulting in the recognition of a strong spiritual animal-human kinship (Batra and Messier 5-6). Nonetheless, despite the existence of alternative concepts, their general impact has NOT become momentous so far. Contemporary Western society still generally adheres to the notion of an ostensibly natural animal-human dichotomy.

While this being so, yet a gradual destabilisation has concurrently undermined

the animal-human paradigm since the Victorian period predominantly in the realms of science, art and literature. Darwin, for instance, made a major contribution towards questioning the traditional perspective on animal taxonomy with Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), the latter being specific about the biological relationship between humans and other primates (Batra and Messier 12). Welz adduces moreover that animal existence underwent a general appreciation during the nineteenth century due to the gradual secularisation and the growing importance of an organic ideal in contrast to the formerly valued mechanic conception of the world. At the same time, animal life became an artistic medium that included fantastic representations and contributed to the creation of alternative worlds aside from its traditionally designated role. Early prominent literary examples represent Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Kipling’s Jungle Books (43-4). Transgressing the boundaries of the ancient animal-human discourse, albeit not completely abandoned, thus gained some importance at least in well-educated circles during late

Victorian and Modernist times, inspiring art and literature in diverse ways by reaching beyond traditional depictions of animals as mere substitutes of men for moralistic purposes (35-6). Manifold animal representations have been employed to evoke versatile effects in a considerable number of literary genres - from children’s literature to science fiction and fantasy - since the late nineteenth century (Shaw, Palumbo and Sullivan 10). Following Soper, three distinct categories of utilising animals predominate in the field of literature: the naturalistic register, the allegorical mode and the compassionate register (303). The representation of animals appears to be straightforward within the naturalistic register. Yet no matter how purely descriptive the portrayal may seem in the beginning, it is almost always charged with symbolic meaning and semiotically enmeshed in the text on different levels, contributing to the overall narrative strategy or the poetic significance (306). The allegorical mode plays more overtly with animal symbolism, lets animals appear as dramatis personae or transfigures humans into animal shape by means of metamorphosis as is the case in Kafka’s Die Verwandlung. When animal characters occur, they are often directly anthropomorphised – human personality in animal shape. The compassionate register eventually comprises fiction that induces the reader to contemplate animal treatment (307). What Soper, after all, really devotes her attention to is to convey “… that animals never appear in literature simply as themselves” (303). They almost always serve a specific function. The utilisation of animals in contemporary literature has changed from mere symbolism and metaphor to engage with anthropomorphism from a different perspective. Following Seago and Armbruster, literary representations of animals disclose new aspects of mankind. The most obvious insight into human nature and society provide men in animal bodies, revealing multiple characteristics of humankind while containing no or only few traces of real animals (v-vi). Shaw, Palumbo and Sullivan underscore the main effect of this practice: “It is a form of defamiliarization to attribute almost-human viewpoints to animals and by doing so to present social issues – that is, moral issues – in different ways” (11). Moreover, a wide range of themes and questions might be introduced, such as xenophobia, good versus evil, what it means to be human or animal-human relationships (11). Thus it may be argued that utilising animals in literature constitutes a significant tool to renew and enrich perceptions of reality which, according to Booker, is a principal feature of literature itself ( Dystopian Impulse 175). Provided that inducing the reader to see the world with different eyes marks a principal feature of literature itself “… then dystopian fiction is not a marginal genre. It lies at the very heart of the literary project” (Dystopian Impulse 176). This view compares to the conviction of most modern Marxist thinkers to whom “… literature quite often plays a critical role, opposing its imaginative visions to existing or potential ills and injustices in society” (Booker, Dystopian Literature 3). Nonetheless, not all literary critics concede the relevance of dystopian literature. Elitism disparages the genre as ‘popular culture’; other critics criticise a lack of aesthetic form and technique ( Dystopian Impulse, 173).

Booker repudiates such assertions by explaining that these categorical distinctions

between ‘serious literature’ and ‘popular culture’ are not pertinent since dystopian literature recognises and explores the mutual entanglement of literature and society. It hence mediates between the literary, social and cultural discourse, bringing them together and, at the same time, enriching every single one of them (Dystopian Impulse 174-5).

Yet prior to conflating the animal theme with dystopian literature, the difficulty of defining the genre has to be overcome. The term itself was first recorded in a parliamentary speech by John Stuart Mill in 1868 with which he attempted to find an expression for an opposing perspective on utopia: the idea of “utopia gone wrong” (Vieira 16). From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, the word dystopia has come into usage to refer to both: worse than real places as well as works describing these (17). While narrow definitions of dystopia focus on feasible negative visions of social and political developments and consequently exclude most works from the realm of science fiction (Claeys 109), broader approaches - for instance Murphy following Sargent - describe the term as:

Dystopia, the negative utopia, is a “non-existent society described in considerable

detail and normally located in time and space that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as considerably worse than the society in which the reader lived”. (473)

Claeys provides another definition for the often interchangeably called ‘negative utopia’ or ‘anti-utopia’:… fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies, or which demonstrate, in B. F. Skinner’s words, ‘ways of life’ we must be sure to avoid. (107) Both definitions regard rather the terrors than the hopes of mankind with the difference that the former restricts itself to a kind of negative non-existent society, whereas the latter additionally includes satires of utopian aspirations. A third approach to dystopian literature proposes Booker: Briefly, dystopian literature is specifically that literature which situates itself in direct opposition to utopian thought, warning against the potential negative consequences of arrant utopianism. At the same time, dystopian

literature generally also constitutes a critique of existing social conditions or political systems, either through the critical examination of the utopian premises upon which those conditions and systems are based or through the imaginative extension of those conditions and systems into different contexts that more clearly reveal their flaws and contradictions.

(Dystopian Literature 3)

By this definition, Booker regards dystopias less to be a specific genre but

rather a kind of “oppositional and critical energy or spirit” (Dystopian Literature 3). His reading offers the opportunity of assigning a wide range of literary works to the dystopian genre as long as social or political critique remains paramount - in contrast to science fiction. This wide approach constitutes the understanding of dystopian literature to be drawn upon subsequently.

Apart from providing a pertinent definition of dystopian literature, understanding

its origin and emergence is an essential precondition prior to any further investigation into the subject. Although the term dystopia was coined after ‘utopia’, sometimes interpretations of relevant concepts could result in both – depending on the individual point of view; “… one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia, …” (Dystopian Impulse 15). From its origin, however, the utopian preceded the dystopian impulse. Thomas More coined the term ‘utopia’ by blending two ancient Greek words - ‘ouk’ (no) and ‘topos’ (place) - with the suffix –ia (indicating a place), leading to a place that is a non-place at the same time (Vieira 4). The utopian concept essentially comprises up to four different aspects: an imagined society combined with a ‘good place’ (‘eutopia’), very often in opposition to the prevailing ideology; the literary manifestation of utopian ideas; its impact on the reader; and the desire for a better life based on a notion of discontent towards one’s own society (Vieira 6). When it comes to the literary genre, also established by More in 1516, utopias usually depict:

… the journey (by sea, land or air) of a man or woman to an unknown place (an island, a country or a continent); once there, the utopian traveler is usually offered a guided tour of the society, and given an explanation of its social, political, economic and religious organization; this journey typically implies the return of the utopian traveller to his or her own country, in order to be able to take back the message that there are alternative and better ways of organizing society. (Vieira 7)

Nevertheless, it should not remain unheeded that, despite Thomas More coining the term ‘utopia’, there had been earlier literature displaying utopian features of which Plato’s Republic is considered to be the oldest still relevant example (Dystopian Impulse 5).

Dystopian literature, on the other hand, emerged in response to the optimistic utopian concept and developed out of the satirical utopia epitomised by Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Swift’s satire echoes formal features of More’s Utopia in the near-utopias of the Brobdingnag and Houyhnhnm societies (Pohl 67); the latter working with an intimated human-horse inversion, prompting Gulliver to despise the corrupted human society and relishing in the company of horses after his return to England (Swift 265-6). Claeys marks Swift’s satire to be the beginning of the ‘first dystopian turn’, an anti-utopian response to the exaggerated supremacy of reason and scientific progress founded on Enlightenment optimism, which culminated into the ‘second dystopian’ turn in the second half of the Victorian era. From the 1890s onwards, foremost socialist ideas and the fear of degeneration inspired the publication of an increasing number of dystopian texts (110-2). H. G. Wells exemplifies the second dystopian turn with works like The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) or The Sleeper Awakes (1899), the former displaying with the man-made creation of ‘quasi-human monsters’ that Homo sapiens implies the same remorselessness as nature itself, whereas the latter

explores capitalism and urbanisation gone wrong in a future slave-state (113). As earlier publications, for instance Butler’s Erewhon (1872), Wells included prominent elements of dystopian reaction to nineteenth-century technological utopianism into his novels. These early dystopian impulses became more prominent than the utopian ones in the course of the twentieth century, not only in the realm of literature but also in cultural criticism. Particularly modern

Marxist thinkers, for instance Adorno, Althusser and Jameson, conceded literature

a central role on account of its opposing critical visions on potential deplorable states of affairs in contemporary society ( Dystopian Literature 3). Dystopian pessimistic energies have been inspiring a considerable number of artistic works up to the present day. Prominent literary examples include We, Brave New World, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, many of them leading to popular film adaptations including Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange or Scott’s Blade Runner (Dystopian Literature 7-8). While it is yet too early to predict the resilience of the dystopian mode during the twenty-first century, little doubt remains that ‘dystopia’ carries on as an important cultural force at present (Murphy 477). The main literary dystopian strategy constitutes defamiliarization through imaginatively distant settings for the sake of social criticism (Dystopian Literature 3), a function that is in alignment with principal aspects of utilising animals in literature, rendering the integration of both features into

one research suitable. Defamiliarization, a kind of “cognitive estrangement” (Dystopian Impulse 175), provides a different view on the world by inducing the

reader to see earthly concerns from the outside and questioning issues that might otherwise be taken for granted. Various strategies may achieve this function. Distinct temporal and spatial settings (Dystopian Impulse 19) are often employed in dystopian fiction; less frequently, however, the use of animals. Further reflection on the dynamics that follow in case dystopias employ animals to convey central messages implies two relevant questions:

1. What particular effects result from the utilisation of animals in dystopian


2. What constitutes the significance of the overall result?

Two principal arguments contribute to the importance of this inquiry. Dystopian literature gives rise to invaluable reconsideration of factual or potential social maladies. A succinct glance at contemporary history with all its versatile forms of abuse, corruption and conflicts amongst humankind as well as possible speculations about disapproving things yet to come underscores the relevance of the dystopian project; or, as Booker enunciates, “These real world dystopias, with their millions of real human victims, also lend a poignancy and an urgency to the warnings of dystopian fiction” ( Dystopian Impulse 20). The genre thus deserves serious critical attention for its mutual involvement of lit erature and society (175). Moreover, although some dystopian works employ animals to a considerable extent, the subject ‘animals in dystopian literature’ has not received much critical attention yet. Whatever the reason for this disregard might be, no single treatise on the significance of animals in the dystopian genre as such was to be found during the preparatory research to the present inquiry except for papers containing animal aspects in isolated dystopian novels.

Hence, it may be argued that conducting research into the realm of animals in the dystopian genre represents a rare contribution to literary studies. The methodology to this literary analysis involves a thematic interpretation of selected dystopian literature by applying the critical approach of the ‘Other’, sometimes alternatively denoted as ‘Otherness’. The process will be systematic (cf. Nünning and Nünning 28), and rather focuses on fundamental aspects than the historical sequence of publication. To employ a critical approach implies, in accordance with Rapaport, “… a more systematic example of interpretation in which a coherent body of thought (i.e. a theory) is mapped onto the literary work in order to explain its meaning” (7). Thereby, the difficulty lies in finding a considerable symmetry between the literary work and the theoretical concept. Chapter 2 introduces the critical approach of the ‘Other’ and further discusses the issue of its applicability and relevance in the present case. Chapter 3 then illustrates the utilisation of animals in the selected dystopias in consideration of relevant theoretical aspects. Elaborating on that, Chapter 4 enters

into detail and exemplifies principal effects thereof with the aid of both primary and secondary sources. The overall results will be summarised in the conclusion and the significance of the findings reflected on. It remains to be noted that, following Nünning and Nünning (22), while acknowledging the possibility of divergent readings, the textual interpretation implies potential meanings including coherent interpretations of selfsame within the theoretical framework.

The selected texts belong to the dystopian genre analogous to the former established definition and cover a period from the outgoing nineteenth century to the outgoing twentieth century. Although British novels and short novels form the principal object of inquiry, dystopias by three non-British writers – American, French and Czech – complement the selection and widen the literary scope regardless of any possible canon discussion. Besides the texts’ dystopian main concern, the authors made use of animals in varying degrees to induce multiple defamiliarizing effects, qualifying these dystopias as apt objects for the present investigation. The following list enumerates the selected texts in chronological order:

1. H. G. Wells: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)

2. C. Čapek: War with the Newts (1936)

3. G. Orwell: Animal Farm (1945)

4. W. Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)

5. A. Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)

6. P. Boulle: Planet of the Apes (1963)

7. P. K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

8. W. Self: Great Apes (1997)

These novels and short novels provide a representative overview of dystopian literature to discuss the effects and overall significance that result from the utilisation of animals. Prior to exploring this topic, however, the subsequent chapter illuminates the underlying theoretical concept by explaining background, characteristics and pertinence of the ‘Other’ to the present study.

2. The Theoretical Concept of the ‘Other’

Although the ‘Other’ is to be found in various theoretical approaches from epistemology to psychoanalysis, for instance in Sartrean existentialism and Derridean deconstruction, Edward Said’s notion of this term has become most prominent in cultural studies (Edgar and Sedgwick 266) and will constitute the theoretical perspective for the present research. Said explains basic features of his concept in Culture and Imperialism; most prominently, however, in the foundational post-colonial study Orientalism. Yet prior to defining the ‘Other’, ‘Otherness’ and ‘Othering’, some Saidean presuppositions demand further explanation.

Said considers neither identity nor culture as stable or given: “... human identity is not only not natural and stable, but constructed, and occasionally even invented outright” (Orientalism 332). This anti-essentialist notion implies identity not being a stable thing but a discursive, language-based construction that changes meanings due to time and circumstances (Barker 221). The same holds principally true for culture, “… all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic” ( Culture and Imperialism xxv). Nonetheless, despite this anti-essentialist concept, Saidean culture also comprises a more covert, elevating element:

You read Dante and Shakespeare in order to keep up with the best that was thought and known, and to see yourself, your people, and tradition in their best lights. In time, culture comes to be associated, often aggressively, with the nation or the state; this differentiates “us” from “them”, almost always with some degree of xenophobia. Culture in this sense is a source of identity, and a rather combative one …”.

(Culture and Imperialism xiii)

To establish a hegemonic and homogeneous national collective, in other words, serves a symbolic function for the creation of identity. It potentially includes a discriminatory binary opposition suitable to divide people into insiders and outsiders according to historically shaped dynamics of power and manifestations of identity based on ethnicity and cultural values (Nghi Ha 51). Identity formation hence involves the construction of opposing ‘Others’ that differ from ‘us’, for most people find it difficult to cope with the idea that human identity and reality constantly change without comprising a stable core. “We all need some foundation on which to stand; the question is how extreme and unchangeable is our formulation of what this foundation is” ( Orientalism 333).

Said consequently argued that the cultural-geographical entities ‘Orient’ versus ‘Occident’ do not represent inert given facts but discursive constructs (Barker 266). “… I say that words such as “Orient” and “Occident” correspond to no stable reality that exists as a natural fact. Moreover, all such geographical designations are an odd combination of the empirical and imaginative” (Orientalism 331). To construct an ‘Orient’ by a set of Western discourses that depend on and reproduce the superiority and hegemony of the West constitutes the principal underlying notion of ‘Orientalism’ (Barker 444). It includes an imbalance of power and a system of thought through which a collective notion identifying ‘us’ Europeans against ‘those’ non-Europeans became established during colonialist times and still lingers on in Western existence (Orientalism in SC 45-6). Creating binary oppositions by opposing ‘us’ to ‘them’ (the ‘Other’) evokes a way of thinking that allows members of mankind to be divided into two opposing groups. A dominant group, such as Westerners during colonial times, imposes its categories by stigmatising the ‘Others’ (the colonised) as barbarians, savages or people of colour. The latter group becomes thus rather defined by its ostensible faults, rendering the ‘Others’ susceptible to discrimination, domination or even extermination (Staszak 43). It is this process that has contributed to Europe defining itself.

These principal Saidean thoughts from the angle of ‘Orientalism’ laid the

foundation to the theoretical concept of the ‘Other’. The ‘Other’ becomes characterized by ascribed ‘Otherness’ of which Staszak provides a comprehensible definition:

Otherness is the result of a discursive process by which a dominant ingroup

(“Us,” the Self) constructs one or many dominated out-groups

(“Them,” Other) by stigmatizing a difference – real or imagined – presented

as a negation of identity and thus a motive for potential discrimination. (44)

Staszak does not deny that differences exist. Yet difference belongs to the realm of facts whereas ‘Otherness’ belongs to the realm of imagination as the example of biological sex (difference) versus gender (‘Otherness’) illustrates (44). In other words, “There is no otherness without the thought that defines it as such. It is constructed by human interaction and social categories and only ever exists in relation to a certain social order” (Rana 14). The creation of ‘Otherness’, often denoted as ‘Othering’, means cultural alienation from the designated out-group by opposing ‘them’ to the in-group through ascription of a deficient identity based on simplistic notions and stereotypes (Staszak 44). As a result, the ingroup constructs not only the out-group’s (the ‘Others’) identity but also their own. “The sign, after all, derives its meaning from what it is not, its difference” (Mohr XVII). Staszak further specifies that ‘Othering’ makes up an anthropological constant to some extent. All social groups display a certain tendency to distinguish themselves from ‘Others’ by debasing them. This thought process creates mutually exclusive dichotomies on the basis of “…charging differences with social meaning” (Rana 13) to which judgmental connotations become attached and that imply a power divide, such as male versus female, heterosexual versus homosexual or white versus black (Staszak 45).

‘Othering’ requires distinctive categories: language, political systems, religious orientation or physical features to mention some; most prominently, however, it often includes a spatial component (Staszak 47). Inner-city ghettos serve this purpose equally well as do nations, continents, islands and so forth.

Spatial segregation therefore adds another visible component to less overt categories of thought that construct inferior social groups. It must not go unheeded,

though, that every angle on the ‘Other’ reveals something about the observer’s perspective. Since creating ‘Others’ constitutes an anthropological constant to some extent, members of a social group are both ‘self’ and ‘Other’ simultaneously. For when the ‘Other’ looks back at members of the in-group, these might become the ‘Others’ (Mohr XI), a line of thought not to be disregarded when it comes to the analysis of interrelated dynamics between social in- and outgroups.

After having outlined the theoretical scope, the question of its applicability to the present case still necessitates clarification. It has been explained that thinking in categories of ‘Otherness’ makes up an anthropological manner of contemplation in order to settle one’s own identity by separation from the alleged ‘Others’. Hence, mutually exclusive dichotomies become manifested that include elevated in-group members while excluding the dominated out-group. This perspective potentially applies to all literary texts that depict any kind of ‘Others’, ‘Otherness’ or ‘Othering’ in the sense of the former established definition. It has been utilised to scrutinise magicians and magical creatures in Harry Potter novels (cf. Rana) as well as to illuminate uncanny versions of ‘Otherness’ in Gothic fiction (cf. Khair) amongst others. Its application furthermore appears to be pertinent whenever animals play an important role in literature because,

as explained above, the commonly accepted animal-human paradigm rests on a Western discourse that invents its ‘Otherness’ rather than being founded on ‘real’ differences. Conducting literary research into this topic from the viewpoint of the ‘Other’ provides an opportunity to shed new light on the animal-human discourse by scrutinising whether authors implement the Western paradigm without questioning or if it becomes undermined during the course of the plot. Even more so, an inquiry into dystopian literature in this respect appears to be the more promising, for social criticism lies at the heart of dystopia, and social maladies evoked by ‘Othering’ bear the potential to become noticeable through animal defamiliarizing effects regardless of which species asserts the in-group position. Real-life human conflicts rooted in a lack of tolerance and empathy could, as a result, become discernible by unveiling real societal mechanisms of ‘Otherness’.

Considering dystopian animals against the backdrop of the ‘Other’, however, necessitates the analysis of animal-human relationships including spatial organisations, ascribed characteristics and attached symbolic or suggestive functions beforehand. Such investigations moreover have to consider any change in the animal-human issue over narrative time if pertinent. Chapter 3 elaborates on these fundamental questions as point of departure for discussing ascertained effects of utilising animals in the present case.

3. The Depiction of Animals in Relevant Dystopias against the Backdrop of the ‘Other’

3.1 Animals within the Naturalistic Register

Utilisation of animals within the naturalistic register renders literary effects least overt and functions for the most part on a traditional symbolic and allegorical level as applies to Lord of the Flies, The Old Men at the Zoo and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Golding’s novel, to begin with, places a stranded group of schoolboys on a small, deserted island in the Pacific. Here they have to organise themselves while awaiting rescue, but most of them gradually fall into savagery, almost prompting their total extinction had not a ‘deus ex machina’ in the shape of a naval officer saved the remaining survivors at the last minute. Albeit not too frequently, some living animals inhabiting the island are mentioned from the outset and throughout the narration - “… a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another” (Golding 1) - most prominently, however, pigs. Pigs occupy the wooded centre of the island whereas the boys dwell on the beach. Golding thus establishes a division of space. Man’s supremacy becomes soon manifest when the choirboys around their leader and antihero Jack Merridew begin to hunt pigs for want of meat even within the first chapter (35). Hunting pigs is what constitutes the boys’ dominion over animals and consequently instates the common animal-human paradigm, a notion not subjected to change during the course of the plot - at least not on a shallow level of meaning.

In the semantic deep structure, however, versatile animal symbolic and allusive images accompany the boys and foreshadow the man-made disastrous events. A bat-like creature emanates from a child’s shadow (17); the appearance of the approaching choirboys in the distance incipiently resembles a dark, fumbling creature (18), and later they “…perched like black birds on the criss-cross trunks…” (20); Jack hunts “…dog-like, uncomfortably on all fours…” (61); whereas the corpse of a dead parachutist - mistakenly considered to be ‘the beast’ - squats down ape-like, head between its knees (171).

Yet most striking appears the image of the snake and that of pigs. The boys live in fear of ‘the beast’ that is said to be a snake living in the woods (42- 3), and a watch fire spreads into the thicket with flames like snakes, presumably killing the boy with the mulberry-marked face (58). The image of the snake insinuates Original Sin and arises - not only through the boys’ doings on the island but also on a symbolic level - when Ralph, the elected leader, undoes the snake-clasp of his belt (6). Jack and his disciples, on the other hand, subject pigs to hunting and slaughter, a fate eventually to be shared with Piggy, the boy who stands in for human intellect as well as the capacity for reasoning and wisdom (Martin 409). Manifold allusions foreshadow this event on a symbolic level. Apart from being dubbed Piggy – his real name remains untold – the boy displays an obese figure, grunts (Golding 5) and squeaks like a pig (125). Even more notably, Jack himself implicitly refers to Piggy’s imminent murder during a discussion on the beast:

[Piggy] “I don’t agree with all Jack said, but with some. ‘Course there

isn’t a beast in the forest. How could there be? What would a beast eat?”


“We eat pig.”

“Piggy!“. (111-2)

Hence, although the traditional animal-human paradigm remains virtually untouched,

Golding employs a complex framework of symbols and devices to support his central message, a line of thought to be expanded in Chapter 4. The Old Men at the Zoo revolves around the London Zoo at Regent’s Park where a succession of several zoo directors, the ‘old men’, tries to execute ambitious plans within their area of responsibility; all of them turn out to be failures. These events at the Zoological Gardens coincide with societal failures and misfortunes in the surrounding outer world, leading to a nuclear war with the socalled Uni-Europeans and its aftermath. Wilson’s setting predominantly confines animals to areas controlled by the ‘old men’: the London Zoo and facilities attached to it - most notably the National Reserve, which first zoo director Leacock attempts to establish as his life-work. Entirely at the ‘old men’s’ and their assistants’ mercy, these animals become the objects of zoo politics - an out-group status that includes the possibility of being executed as happened to a renegade lynx in a preposterous public spectacle (Wilson 200).


Excerpt out of 75 pages


From Beast Folk to Great Apes. About the Significance of Animal Others in Dystopian Literature
University of Leipzig  (English studies)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
865 KB
Literature, English studies, Dystopia, Animals, Animal Others, The Other, Othering, Animal-Human Paradigm, Topic_Dystopien
Quote paper
Ulrich Schaeffer (Author), 2013, From Beast Folk to Great Apes. About the Significance of Animal Others in Dystopian Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: From Beast Folk to Great Apes. About the Significance of Animal Others in Dystopian Literature

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free