THE ILUSTRIOUS MR. SQUIRREL

•April 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Just doin' my magic thang...

Just doin' my magic thang...

‘What will it be”, I thought to myself as the dirty white mini-van chugged along down the interstate.  Every rustle in the grass, every flutter out of the corner of my eyes made me jump, and my heart pounded.  Would it show up?  Would I discover something about myself?  Would nature accept me?

I was on sojourn.  It was my first, and traditionally, or so I was told, this was the time that you sought for your totem animal.  I didn’t know that I believed in totem animals, or magic, or anything at all at that time in my life.  However, I knew that I trusted the man who was guiding me, and so I tried to surrender to the experience.  And funny thing was, as soon as we hit the road, I was overtaken by excitement and anxiety.  I was curious to know what mirror nature would hold up to me, and what signs this journey would give.  Surely there would be meaning here.  I felt like a little kid, going to his first amusement park.  You aren’t really sure what your going to experience, but you know it’s gonna be epic!

Within the system that I was experiencing, knowledge was unimportant.  A totem animal was not discovered by looking within oneself and intellectually reasoning which animal might or might not represent you accurately.  Rather, it was the raw experience of nature itself that you used.  Your guide, or teacher, would cry for visions and signs before you left, and then, while out wandering the roads, you committed to paying attention to the universe around you, and treating the events as significant.

All in a row...

All in a row...

The first animal that seemed prominent was the Buzzard.  Of course, my teacher said that in Texas, Buzzards showing up near highways isn’t at all unusual, and totem animals are supposed to be animals which behave strangely around you while on sojourn.  However, as the trip progressed, literally HUNDREDS of buzzards showed up.  It was pretty scary.  And a little disheartening. I mean, afterall, everyone wants to be a glamorous animal.  You are the Wolf!  Or the TIGER.  Or the Hawk.  Or even the Coyote or Bear.  Nobody wants to be buzzard.  And, if totem animal is a reflection of your inner self, what does that say about you?  I feed on the carcasses of my friends?  I was more than a little dissapointed at that point in my journey.  But, my teacher assured me that the journey had just begun, and it was possible the Buzzards were only a messenger, though he did begin to try and relate buzzards to my life, and drew a surprising number of positive correlations.

However, I didn’t discover what was eventually decided to be my Totem animal until we reached the big city.  We were walking down a path, when suddenly, out a bush, right in front of my, jumped a squirrel!  I was surprised and I froze.  The squirrel stared directly at me for a long time, then stood up on its hind legs and showed me its white belly.  Then it ran out into the street and away.  I felt strangely, and wasn’t really paying attention to the world around me.  Immediately I began to rationalize my experience of the out of the ordinary.  Maybe that squirrel was like college squirrels, acclimatized to people.  Maybe it was as startled as I was, which was why it froze.  Maybe maybe maybe.  And then, my teacher stepped up behind me, cackled and said, “Thats it!”

Here he comes to save the day!

Here he comes to save the day!

Since I discovered my totem, I have done alot of processing about it.  In reality, for a rodent, it is the most glamorous rodent around.  That huge fluffy tail is something that I mirror in my own life quite often with fashion and extravagence.  I always want to put on a good show.  I also have a very hard time doing two things at once, like a squirrel, who can’t think and run, but pauses at every turn to consider the direction, and the is off like a flash.  I am easily startled, close to my family and friend, but rivals with others who are too similar to me, and often get into squabbles with them, like two squirrels chasing each other around a tree trunk.  The comparisons go on.  The point is, that a totem animal, as I was taught, is supposed to represent an awareness of nature, and a willingness to see yourself in others, and others within yourself.  As I was taught, people often have many totem animals, but my primary is squirrel.  And, when you think about it, in terms of encountering them, a totem like squirrel or mouse is way more powerful than a totem like tiger.  How often do you meet tigers?  And if you really WERE like a tiger, wouldn’t that make you kind of an asshole to me around?  Just food for thought!

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Take A Bite Out of Nature: The Significance of Animals in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland FINAL

•April 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Take A Bite Out of Nature:

The Significance of Animals in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
Lewis Carroll as The Duchess

alice1

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is considered one of the most beloved books of children’s literature in the modern age. Through various media incarnations, including film, television, parody, and music, this classic tale of a girl’s magical journey through the land of madness is at once didactic and complex. One of the most memorable, if under analyzed, themes running through the book is the constant personification of animals. However, the significance of this consistent usage of our furry animal friends is often overlooked by those more interested in what the characters say than who the characters are. Indeed, while analysts and fans will often memorize a quote or witticism, they seldom look to the identity of the one speaking it. During her encounter with the Caterpillar in Chapter V of the book, Alice is very concerned with identity. The Caterpillar asks her bluntly, “Who are you?”[1] However, Alice cannot answer him, which stymies their conversation. This suggests that Carroll himself was conscious of, and careful in selecting the identities of those who spoke. It is no surprise then that Alice’s struggle for her own identity and the conversation in regards to it, is had with a caterpillar, a creature itself confused about who it is. This passage is made all the more poignant because Alice is talking to the embodiment of transformation. It is careful consideration of both the identity and actions of characters within the book that allow a full appreciation of Lewis Carroll’s mad world. Therefore, particularly in the case of the large number of talking animals, the significance of animals needs to be examined.

whiterabbit1

From the very beginning of the book, Alice’s journey is typified by movement away from the ordered world of human society, and into the chaotic world of nature. This journey is jump started by a very anxious animal, the White Rabbit. “So she was considering…whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.”[2] However, it is not only the animal itself, but his unique manner that motivates Alice into action. “but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet…”[3]. It is worth noting here, that in the world that Carroll creates for Alice, there is nothing to suggest that this White Rabbit is anything out of the ordinary. In our world it might be ludicrous, or even frightening to see a small animal, dressed finely and muttering to itself in human speech, but in Carroll’s world, the suggestion is not that the rabbit is aberrant but that Alice herself has never looked at rabbits correctly before. Also, it is only because it is an animal that Alice pays attention. It is entirely probable that had a strange little man rushed by, whining about being late, Alice would have simply sat bored by the brook and perhaps made a few daisy chains. But, because something out of the ordinary occurs, namely that a rabbit rushed by talking, Alice is motivated to act. It is the promise of a new perspective that sends her forward, and it is her preconceptions, particularly about animals, that she must leave behind.

aliceandmouse

In fact, animals in Carroll’s world seem all too eager to question Alice’s preconceptions. For instance, after having fallen deeply into the earth while chasing the White Rabbit, (and experiencing a strange lesson in the dangers of consumption), Alice encounters a mouse. Her mechanical niceties of conversation often cause difficulties between her and the animals she is in the company of, and this mouse is no different. This perhaps begins with her utterance in French, “Ou est ma chatte?”[4] in an effort to communicate with a Mouse she fears may be French. She soon learns that the mouse understands both French and English, though, as the poor creature leaps from the pool of tears they are swimming in with fright and responds, after Alice’s quick apology, “Not like cats!” cried the Mouse in a shrill passionate voice. “Would you like cats, if you were me?”[5] The usage of a small creature, like a mouse in this instance, is an effective way of highlighting Alice’s own uncaring nature. Mice are generally accepted as a weak and vulnerable animal. Alice demonstrates very quickly that she is unable to imagine what it is like to live in the world of the mouse, or indeed, any world but her own. Alice continues the conversation, but stumbles onto the predatory nature of her own animal companions again and again, able only to recognize her error after the fact, instead of preventing her rude utterances to begin with. This seems to highlight Carroll’s underlying theme within Alice’s journey; Alice must learn to empathize with those who are different from her in order to grow up.

Alice’s animal journey continues with her further encounter with the White Rabbit. She finds herself placed in the awkward position of being ordered by the animal, and immediately identifies her preconceptions that animals ought to keep their place. “How queer it seems…to be going messages for a rabbit! I suppose Dinah’ll be sending me on messages next!…Only I don’t think…that they’d let Dinah stop in the house if it began ordering people about like that!”[6] The thought of her cat making requests of her seems absurd. Again, the usage of animals is an effective way of revealing Alice’s inner life. Had a strange man asked her to run a message, she might never have allowed herself to confront her own rebellious and unhelpful nature, but because an animal is making the request it is safe for the young girl to confront her own obstinate opinions on doing for others. Yet, despite her misgivings, she does as the White Rabbit asks and ends up, through her further selfish acts, trapped in the White Rabbit’s house, having grown too large to exit. The White Rabbit, along with a large group of various animals then gather to attempt and expel the giant Alice from the house. Whereas before, Alice has been beseeching the creatures she comes into contact with for help, now that she is large again, her first reaction is intimidation and violence. When the White Rabbit attempts to enter his house, she “suddenly spread out her hand and made a snatch in the air”[7]. And later, she kicks a lizard out of the chimney, after wishing to herself that the animals could help her out of the house. Finally, when they threaten to burn the house down she responds, “If you do, I’ll set Dinah at you!”[8] This is a clear threat of murder. Now that she is gigantic, she feels that the animal’s feelings and inclinations don’t matter at all, and feels free to attack and bully them as she pleases. Again, she finds that she cannot bring herself to empathize with a creature different than herself, and what little empathy she seemed to have developed, through regret of her actions with the Mouse and his friends, quickly evaporates when her dominant size returns to her.

Alice’s journey continues on through many more encounters with animals and their treatment in the world of Wonderland. She encounters a fish and a frog serving as messengers, and rescues a baby that turns into a pig (which she quickly discards). She has a conversation with the enigmatic Cheshire Cat, the only other predatory animal she had encountered, and attends a mad tea party, hosted by both man AND animal.

queencroquet

And finally, she comes to play Croquet with the Red Queen. It is here that Alice encounters the truly uncompassionate nature of mankind. In fact, it is perhaps a pun on Carroll’s part by turning these “human” characters into personified playing cards, inherently small and thin, suggesting that their self serving, self indulgent natures make them shallow excuses for human beings. From their first meeting, Alice is at odds with the Queen of Hearts, whose selfish cruelty is an exaggerated mirror of Alice’s own. “’And who are these?” said the Queen…”How should I know?” said Alice surprised at her own courage, “It’s no business of mine.” The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming, “Off with her head! Off with—“ “Nonsense!”, said Alice, very and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.”[9] Immediately, Alice is set up as a sort of foil for the violent and selfish Queen, her own will as strong as the mad monarch’s. After their initial friction, Alice is invited to play croquet, where the presence of animals is decidedly different than their previous incarnations. While the White Rabbit is present and nervous as always, clearly a servant to the court, “the croquet balls were all hedgehogs, and the mallets live flamingoes”[10]. Alice struggles to play the insane game of croquet, growing more and more perturbed at the Queen’s petulant and childish execution edicts and her blatant disregard for the feelings or status of others. Eventually the Cheshire Cat appears and asks, “How do you like the Queen?”[11] To which Alice replies, “Not at all”[12]. The Cheshire Cat seems amused by Alice’s consternation, and unconcerned with the goings on around him. He is the inner anima of Alice’s own predatory nature, and represents one path she could possible take. However, when her friendship with the cat is challenged, Alice quickly retorts to the King of Hearts, “A cat may look at a king”[13]. Rather than remaining unconcerned, and not taking responsibility for what is happened around her, Alice has intervened for the first time in the novel directly, expressing an opinion on the Cheshire Cat’s presence. This is the first time she has stood up for the rights of those who are different than herself. The Cheshire Cat becomes the first “other” that she is able to identify with, and her defense of him causes the entire court to go to shambles in an attempt to kill the cat.

cheshirecat1

After a strange meeting with a creature called the Mock Turtle, and listening at the end to him sing a song about Turtle Soup, which the Queen of Hearts intends to turn him into, Alice comes to the climax of her first journey. She is taken to the trial of the Knave of Hearts, which is presided over by the King and Queen of Hearts. The jury however consists of an assortment of animals which sit in judgment of the man. Alice is able, over the course of the trial and observing the selfish injustice of the human in power, to finally “grow up”. Quite literally she becomes enormous, refusing to accept the heartless actions of her human kin. And in doing so, she is able to throw off the selfish blinders of her childhood that keep her insensitive to the diversity around her. In the end, she declares of the Queen and her court, “’Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”[14] She acknowledges that the cruel and heartless way these heart covered “people” act is inhumane and uncomfortable, and her epiphany returns her to the real world, though she is forever changed.

It is perhaps not readily apparent what Carroll wishes to teach us through the mad fancies and strange series of events presented by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but for the modern reader who considers not only what is said, but by whom, a strong moral becomes apparent. Though Alice begins her journey selfish, and unable even to consider the feelings of other before speaking, through her experiences with the diverse creatures of Wonderland, most significantly the personified animals, she is able to learn empathy, and to recognize the shallowness of those who exhibit unrestrained cruelty to those around them. It is the promise of new perspectives that draw Alice forward into her adult nature, and transform her literally into a giant among men. The identity of the speakers, most often animals that teach her the lessons she must learn to mature is a key aspect of the tableau of the world. The humanization of the animals in the story does not serve to water down their impact, but rather it is Carroll’s (perhaps unwitting) message about the universal nature of suffering. Carroll does not invite Alice (and us) to learn human lessons from animal mouths, but rather to consider that animals might ALWAYS have had a voice that we have neglected to hear. Alice must learn that whether animal, man, or object, all creatures must be treated with value.

tigerbuddhist


[1] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 56

[2] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 9

[3] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 10

[4] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 26

[5] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 26

[6] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 43

[7] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 46

[8] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 50

[9] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 97-98

[10] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 100

[11] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 103

[12] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 103

[13] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 104

The Thrill of the Hunt…for Humanity.

•April 9, 2009 • 1 Comment

tiger1

These readings, particularly the first one by Ritvo were interminably boring. However, I found the phenomena they were discussing to be very intriguing. It seems that this semester is the semester of Victorian Culture for me, and I must say that this is an interesting facet of it.  Now that I have “awakened” to something resembling a sense of compassion or even moral integrity, I can freely admit that I find the sport hunting of animals to be one of the few truly reprehensible treatments of animals in the world.  I found “The Most Dangerous Game”, a famous story about a man hunted by another man on a deserted island to have a great sense of poetry to it.  The plundering of Africa and India and the subsequent endangering of so many majestic and awe inspiring creatures has been one of the most tragic and resounding proofs for the ever expanding impact that the progress and ignorance of humanity can have on our planet.  While I do not think it is possible for us ever to “destroy” the planet, I think we certainly could make it entirely inhospitable to life of any form we are accustomed to.  In his essay (?) Ritvo states “they (animal trophies) were constant reminders of the hunting expeditons during which they had been procured, a symbol of the force and power that supported and validated the routinezed day to day domination of the empire” (Ritvo 415-16).  The brutal declaration of the atavistic and unerring dominion of the British Empire that was represented by the rampant sport hunting and obsessive adventure seeking of well-to-do nobility and look-to-prove military meant that an entire ecosystem was unbalanced, and entire generations were denied encounters with vital members of our ecosystem.  I am a believer that animals have a spirit, and that they have lessons to teach us.  I agree with Derrida that it is through the next closest organisms to ourselves, animals, that which move and breath and eat and sleep and even love, that humanity can peer into the genuine mirror of existence.  Yet our intention, particularly for the sake of amusement of spectacle, seems to be to shatter that mirror, and to ignore what is suggests for us as creatures.  I do believe that it is right, and natural to eat animals, but I believe that this must be done with the full capacity of compassion and gratitude that we possess.  That too is natural.

elephant1

However, I also acknowledge humanity’s humanity.  It is agreement by which we live our lives; agreement on laws, agreement on norms, agreement on tastes, agreement on every facet of our world.  And more often than not a man cannot alter the agreements into which he is born, and the thought that he might change his world does not even enter his mind.  Few are Ghandis.  And indeed, society might not even function if we all were.  Orwell highlights this, and helps to add an understanding view to the imperialist and amusement obsessed nature of most humans.  He says “I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Orwell 441).  It is the agreements he creates that bind a man to a fate.  And more often than not, I think that cruelty is not born from moral weakness, or malicious intention, but the abject terror each person lives their lives in.  Orwell later adds, when considering doing the “right” thing and not shooting the mad elephant he has been called to deal with, “The crowd would laugh at me.  And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (Orwell 441).  Though Orwell is relating us to what the reality of English Imperialism was for most men, not the hyper-masculine, hyper-competent charicatures that strutted about the lecture circuit in Ritvo’s essay, but the simple man, trying to live life in extroidinary circumstances.  This is the man whom must be reached.  This is the man that must be taught what respect for life is.

Take A Bite Out of Nature: The Significance of Animals in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

•March 31, 2009 • 1 Comment

The above clip is from the film “Spirited Away”, a film heralded as a modern day “Alice in Wonderland”

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
Lewis Carroll as The Duchess

The Mad Tea Party

The Mad Tea Party

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is considered one of the most beloved books of children’s literature in the modern age. Through various media incarnations, including film, television, parody, and music, this classic tale of a girl’s magical journey through the land of madness is at once both didactic and inscrutable. Perhaps one of the most memorable themes running through the book is the constant personification of animals. However, the significance of this consistent transmogriphication is often overlooked by those more interested in what the characters say than who the characters are. Indeed, while analysts and fans will often memorize a quote or witticism, they seldom look to the identity of the one speaking. During her encounter with the Caterpillar in Chapter V of the book, indeed, Alice is very concerned with identity. The Caterpillar asks her bluntly, “Who are you?”[1] However, Alice cannot answer him, which stymies their conversation. This suggests that Carroll himself was conscious of, and careful in selecting the identities of those who spoke. Therefore, particularly in the case of the large number of talking animals, the significance of animals needs to be examined.

I'm late, I'm late!

I'm late, I'm late!

From the very beginning of the book, Alice’s journey is typified by movement away from the ordered world of human society, and into the chaotic world of nature. This journey is jump started by a very anxious animal, the White Rabbit. “So she was considering…whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.”[2] However, it is not only the animal itself, but his unique manner that motivates Alice into action. “but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet…”[3]. It is worth noting here, that in the world that Carroll creates for Alice, there is nothing to suggest that this White Rabbit is anything out of the ordinary. In our world it might be ludicrous, or even frightening to see a small animal, dressed finely and muttering to itself in human speech, but in Carroll’s world, the suggestion is not that the rabbit is aberrant but that Alice herself has never looked at rabbits correctly before.

Ou est ma chatte?

Ou est ma chatte?

In fact, animals in Carroll’s world seem all too eager to question Alice’s preconceptions. For instance, after having fallen deeply into the earth while chasing the White Rabbit, and experiencing a strange lesson in the dangers of consumption, Alice encounters a mouse. Her mechanical niceties of conversation often cause difficulties between her and the animals she is in the company of. This perhaps begins with her utterance in French, “Ou est ma chatte?”[4] in an effort to communicate with a Mouse she fears may be French. She soon learns that the mouse understands both French and English though, as the poor creature leaps from the pool of tears they are swimming in with fright and responds, after Alice’s quick apology, “Not like cats!” cried the Mouse in a shrill passionate voice. “Would you like cats, if you were me?”[5] Alice continues the conversation, but stumbles onto the predatory nature of her own animal companions again and again, able only to recognize her error after the fact, instead of preventing her rude utterances to begin with. This seems to highlight Carroll’s underlying theme within Alice’s journey; Alice must learn to empathize with those who are different from her in order to grow.

Alice’s animal phantasmagoria continues with her further encounter with the White Rabbit. She finds herself placed in the awkward position of being ordered by the animal, and immediately identifies her preconceptions that animals ought to keep their place. “How queer it seems…to be going messages for a rabbit! I suppose Dinah’ll be sending me on messages next!…Only I don’t think…that they’d let Dinah stop in the house if it began ordering people about like that!”[6] The thought of her cat making requests of her seems absurd. Yet she does as the White Rabbit asks and ends up, through her further selfish acts, trapped in the White Rabbit’s house, having grown too large to exit. The White Rabbit, along with a large group of various animals then gather to attempt and expel the giant Alice from the house. Whereas before, Alice has been beseeching the creatures she comes into contact with for help, now that she is large again, her first reaction is intimidation and violence. When the White Rabbit attempts to enter his house, she “suddenly spread out her hand and made a snatch in the air”[7]. And later, she kicks a lizard out of the chimney, after wishing to herself that the animals could help her out of the house. Finally, when they threaten to burn the house down she responds, “If you do, I’ll set Dinah at you!”[8] This is, to her mind, a clear threat of murder. Now that she is gigantic, she feels that the animal’s feelings and inclinations don’t matter at all, and feels free to attack and bully them as she pleases. Again, she finds that she cannot bring herself to empathize with a creature different than herself, and what little empathy she seemed to have developed through regret of her actions with the Mouse and his friends quickly evaporates when her dominant size returns to her.

Alice’s journey continues on through many more encounters with animals and their treatment in the world of Wonderland. She encounters a fish and a frog serving as messengers, and rescues a baby that turns into a pig (which she quickly discards). She has a conversation with the enigmatic Cheshire Cat, the only other predatory animal she had encountered, and attends a mad tea party, hosted by both man AND animal.

Better than Disney!

Better than Disney!

And finally, she comes to play Croquet with the Red Queen. It is here that Alice encounters the truly uncompassionate nature of mankind. In fact, it is perhaps a pun on Carroll’s part by turning these “human” characters into personified playing cards, inherently small and thin, suggesting that their self serving, self indulgent natures make them shallow excuses for human beings. From their first meeting, Alice is at odds with the Queen of Hearts, whose selfish cruelty is an exaggerated mirror of Alice’s own. “’And who are these?” said the Queen…”How should I know?” said Alice surprised at her own courage, “It’s no business of mine.” The Queen turned crimson with furty, and, glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming, “Off with her head! Off with—“ “Nonsense!”, said Alice, very and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.”[9] After their initial friction, Alice is invited to play croquet, where the presence of animals is decidedly different than their previous incarnations. While the White Rabbit is present and nervous as always, clearly a servant to the court, “the croquet balls were all hedgehogs, and the mallets live flamingoes”[10]. Alice struggles to play the insane game of croquet, growing more and more perturbed at the Queen’s petulant and childish execution edicts and her blatant disregard for the feelings or status of others. When the Cheshire Cat appears, he asks, “How do you like the Queen?”[11] To which Alice replies, “Not at all”[12]. Then, when her friendship with the cat is challenged, Alice quickly retorts to the King of Hearts, “A cat may look at a king”[13]. This is the first time she had stood up for the rights of those who are different than herself. The Cheshire Cat becomes the first “other” that she is able to identify with, and her defense of him causes the entire court to go to shambles in an attempt to kill the cat.

Off with their head!

Off with their head!

After a strange meeting with a creature called the Mock Turtle, and listening at the end to him sing a song about Turtle Soup, which the Queen of Hearts intends to turn him into, Alice comes to the climax of her first journey. She is taken to the trial of the Knave of Hearts, which is presided over by the King and Queen of Hearts. The jury however consists of an assortment of creatures, which sit in judgment of the man. Alice is able, over the course of the trial and observing the selfish injustice of the human in power, to finally “grow up”. Quite literally she becomes enormous, refusing to accept the heartless actions of her human kin. And in doing so, she is able to throw off the selfish blinders of her childhood that keep her insensitive to the diversity around her. In the end, she declares of the Queen and her court, “’Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”[14] She acknowledges that the cruel and heartless way these heart covered “people” act is inhumane and uncomfortable, and her epiphany returns her to the real world.

It is perhaps not readily apparent what Carroll wishes to teach us through the mad fancies and strange series of events presented by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but for the modern reader who considers not only what is said, but by whom, a strong moral becomes apparent. Though Alice begins her journey selfish, and unable even to consider the feelings of other before speaking, through her experiences with the diverse creatures of Wonderland, most significantly the personified animals, she is able to learn empathy, and to recognize the shallowness of those who exhibit unrestrained cruelty to those around them. The humanization of the animals in the story does not serve to water down their impact, but rather it is Carroll’s (perhaps unwitting) message about the universal nature of suffering. Alice must learn that animal, man, or object, all creatures must be treated with value.

Is this what compassion looks like?

Is this what compassion looks like?


[1] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 56

[2] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 9

[3] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 10

[4] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 26

[5] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 26

[6] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 43

[7] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 46

[8] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 50

[9] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 97-98

[10] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 100

[11] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 103

[12] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 103

[13] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 104

[14] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 150

PHOTO LINKS

1.  http://www.starstore.com/acatalog/alice-wonderland-08.jpg

2.  http://i188.photobucket.com/albums/z177/Kisa_XD/White_Rabbit_by_kyoht.jpg

3.  http://worldebooklibrary.com/eBooks/Adelaide/c/carroll_l/alice/images/alice08a.gif

4.  http://www.thecheshirecatintenerife.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/cheshirecat.jpg

5.  http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3075/3201904035_c14237c29a.jpg

6.  http://www.tigertemple.org/images/compassion.jpg

Alls Well That Ends In A Meadow??

•March 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees” (Black Beauty 213).  I won’t lie.  I cried when Joe recognized Black Beauty, and I knew that he was finally home, to peace and rest after a life full of such noble sacrifice and valor.  And then I recall the reading from earlier in this semester, “Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker, and the stark difference between the polite bow that “Black Beauty” puts on the end of the story, and the sobering “realism” of Walker’s tale.  The last mention of the horse in that story reads, “Blue was like a crazed person.  Blue was, to me, a crazed person” (Walker 245e).  In Black Beauty, the ending we want, the ending that makes our hearts soar, is given to us, no matter how unlikely it may be.  Beauty is recognized as valuable and loved, and given an easy and loving end to his life, in a quiet meadow.  In Walker, that same meadow is a prison, isolated and crazed for companionship.  Is that a more “realistic” end?  Can Horses, or animals at all, find peace in the world human’s create for them?  Or will they always be crazed by our treatment, no matter how compassionate it may be?  And again, we come to the extreme humanization, in both tales, of the animal.  We project our emotions and our thoughts and our experiences onto the animals in these stories, and look at them as though they were a sort of mirror to us.  But do we ever see the animal itself?  What is the identity of a horse, or a dog, or a cat?  In most stories they are loyal companions, or sly tricksters, or noble heroes.  Never are they “horse”.  Do we even know what horse is?

Is this what we see when we look at animals?

Is this what we see when we look at animals?

However, I can say that I know animals respond to stimulus in ways that suggest understanding.  Like William, the young boy at the end of the book, whose insistence saves beauty, notices, “Poor old fellow!  see, grandpapa, how well he understands kindness” (Black Beauty 207).  Perhaps it is noticing this that is most important.  It is not our enslavement of them, but our cruelty.  There is an order to things, perhaps, and as the point was made in class, many animals would not even exist save for our insistence on them.  Yet, as the woman who convinces Beauty’s driver to take off his bearing rein points out, “we have no right to distress and of God’s creatures without a very good reason; we call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel but they do not suffer less beacuse they have no words” (Black Beauty 199).  I find that, though I think I will always believe it is natural to kill and eat other living things, and to shape the natural world around us as humans, I also think I am coming to believe that perhaps with our power comes a certain obligation, to empathize and to do what we can to ease the suffering of the creatures around us.  It is not a black and white choice.  It can be a process of degrees.  And certainly political action is a necessary step.  Hmm…perhaps I have a heart?  Who knew.

Of course my heart is flaming...

Of course my heart is flaming...

A horse is a horse, of course!

•March 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As I read this story I am reminded of a friend who once told me that, after reading “Black Beauty”, all little girls fall in love with horses.  I find myself moved by the narrative voice of Beauty, however as I have read more and more of this tale, I find myself wondering whether I am learning to identify with the real and obviously significant plight of the working horse, or with aspects of my own humanity I am projecting onto the horse, or enjoying the authors projection of at any rate.

A horse gallop

A horse gallop

“I gave a loud shrill neigh for help; again and again I neighed, pawing the ground impatiently…” (Black Beauty 96).  “I needed no whip or spur for I was as eager as my rider” (Black Beauty 96).  Both of these quotes come from a passage of the book in which Beauty has seen a young rider, Lady Anne, stolen away by a frightened horse at full gallop.  Beauty, recognizing this, desperately wants to save the young girl.  His noble character and wise action save the girls life, though she is briefly injured, and his reputation, the author tells us, is established in the household.  Again, Black Beauty is shown to be of exceeding nobility in the very next chapter, when a man with an alcohol problem rides him, without one shoe, down a rocky road and ends up severely injuring Beauty, and causing a fall that results in his death.  Beauty however reacts strangely.  “I could have groaned too, for I was suffering intense pain both from my foot and knees; but horses are used to bear their pain in silence.  I uttered no sound but stood there and listened…I could do nothing for him nor myself, but, oh! how I listened for the sound of a horse, or wheels, or footsteps” (Black Beauty, 104).   These are wonderful events, and perhaps even could be true (I have never seen a live horse that was not in a parade, so I don’t know), however as I read the passages, cheering for Beauty, and wondering at his nobility, I found myself sitting back and wondering to myself what the value of such fictionalized humanization of animals is.  What good does it do an animal to tell a story like this?  I know that there are many an unwanted dog purchased becaue of movies like “Old Yeller”, and many an unwanted pig that owe their unhappy lives to “Babe” or “Charlotte’s Web”.  I wonder if the same is true of Black Beauty?  How many young girls, starstruck by the quiet dignity of the fictionalized animal, blind themselves to the work and real nature of horses, and obstinately demand “I want a pony” for Christmas or Birthdays?  On one level I understand that the humanization of animals allows us to think about ourselves beyond our own egos, and that often a moral tale can be imparted to us through the medium of an animal, that we would not recognize for the sake of our pride, if it were about humans.  However, when considering things from the point of view of an animal, what good does it do to humanize them unrealistically?  Or is it realistic?  Do horses have consciousness of the order of Beauty?  Do they feel and understand as Beauty does?  Or is it cruel to treat them as though they can, and be frustrated when they don’t?  I’m not certain.

I am including below a photograph I took of a horse and buggy that was one of about 2 dozen waiting in a square at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy over spring break.  I can remember thinking to myself, why is this servitude even necessary anymore?  Is it because of stories like Black Beauty, which have romanticized the animal, that those two dozen horses, forced to pull loud heavy tourists around busy Roman streets all day when two dozen taxi cabs could do just as well?  Interesting thoughts.

Poor horsey...one in the back even has as stupid hat!

Poor horsey...one in the back even has as stupid hat!

And finally, a little music for thought.

Satan’s Halo

•March 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, yesterday I found the place where Satan’s Halo landed. It was in Amsterdam. On the facing of a bar called “The Cock Ring”. I have a photo of myself, worshipping at this fallen astral relic. But that isn’t the beginning of my story.
The story begins at around 4:00 in the afternoon, standing in the check-in line at DFW airport with Elizabeth. We were behind a family from India, and we’re not talking polo wearing, jeans and flip flops kinda Indians either. These were wrap-wearing, card carrying, carpet cleaning beard sportin’ Indians. We were fascinated, of course. And we really felt it was a great omen when the little old Indian grandmother that was with them, took a huge chunk of her dress in hand and flung it over her shoulder, smacking Elizabeth dead in the face. It felt like a sign that things would go right.
And right they did go. Or, as right as they can go on a plane ride for 8 hours with a bitch and a hyper-active elf. Of course, there was a small moment when a petulant spawn was squalling their lungs out, tiny bratty voice cracked with fear and anger, when I thought to myself, “Children are not for force-choking”. But that was a passing moment, I assure you. It was a moment repeated continuously over and over again anytime the plane made noticeable movement. But then we were in Amsterdam!
Now, I have never been to Amsterdam. So, I was amazed. Trains, and tourists, and all sorts of pastries abounded! This was a welcome change from the plane, who had none of the above. We were at least four hours early for the meeting with Elizabeth’s friend, Sterling, so we started out the day on a wander-fest.
I was in the lead, and just following the flow of the energy. I found for myself the giant phallic monument in the middle of Dam square, and a place that sold both maple and chocolate covered waffles, as well as a Japanese man to converse with. And then I felt called, a constant nagging pull to my left side. Wherever I went, I wanted to go left. So, left I went, past ditches and puddles and bicycles and locals, until at last, just beyond a church with a monument to the respect for sex-workers standing outside of it, I found the giant glowing silver ring of sin which marks the beginning of the gay sex district.
With no guidance, no prompts, no concept of the way the city is laid out at all, my feet carried me straight to the doorstep of one of the largest gay sex pits in the world, which stands at the head of one of the largest gay fuck streets in the world. Which is different, I might add, than most “gay-berhoods”. These places, more common in the states, are multi-purpose bastions of liberalism. They have clothing shops, and little cafes, and non-profit organization headquarters on them. No no, Amsterdam has one of these also. I found myself standing on the dedicated streets where only filthy, amoral, no holds barred homosexual copulation occurs. All on my own.
Europe, the Overlord has arrived.

PS- More on Italy tonight!