Anthropomorphism in literature is a common theme throughout the ages. While many tales about animals are directed toward children, simply because adult writers feel that young people are better able to connect with animals or simply because they feel that involving too many human characters would be overwhelming. Despite the host of possible reasons for why so many animal stories exist for children, it is important to also consider the way these stories continue to affect adults. As one of the main themes in “The Life of Pi” that lies under the surface, the anthropomorphism complicates the task of reading.
While many adult readers would feel “demeaned” reading an animal tale since it is associated with low-level reading, the fact remains that adults still retain the tendency to anthropomorphize. The only difference in this act of projecting human characteristics onto animals in adults is that their greater life experiences change the ideas they project. Generally, when in terms of anthropomorphism in literature, one images that children are likely to impose more basic traits on animals (imagining them speaking in strange accents, seeing them as equals, feeling the ability to communicate) adults project “big issues”.
Given the fact that so many adults deny their capacity and inherent tendency to anthropomorphize, it seems strange so that so much literature involving human and animal relationships is devoted to children. One of the exceptions to this idea??”that a book about such relations must be confined to children??”is “The Life of While this is in many senses an adventure/animal story for younger readers, it is filled with some of the most provoking adult themes; the quest spirituality, truth, the meaning of life, and many others. In some ways, through the use of anthropomorphism in “The
Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, recognizing the tendency across age groups to anthropomorphize, accepts this and even encourages readers to engage in projecting human traits on the animals. Throughout the history of storytelling??”from the oral traditions of primitive peoples to the canon of modern literature??”animals have been represented extensively. Fables employed animals to present moral lessons and animals have also been depicted in a more postmodern sense to glorify or mourn this “loss of touch” with the natural world. Most importantly, the role of animals is especially prominent in children’s literature.
For some reason, adults tend to confine themselves to tales of the everyday and consider animal tales to be strictly a part of a child’s intellectual world. On the same note, animals are still a vital part of the cultural life of many adults, serving as pets and the objects of less literary entertainment (zoos, sophisticated nature programming, etc). The question becomes, why are animals confined, in the mind of many adults, to the children’s literature genre? What is it about animal and human interactions that are not suitable for the adult world? In addressing this question about anthropomorphism in literature, adult iction writer Ursula K.
Le Guin observes, “it appears we give animal stories to children and encourage them to be interested in animals because we see children as inferior, mentally ‘primitive,’ not yet fully humanized, thus pets and zoo animal stories are ‘natural’ steps in the child’s way up to adult, exclusive humanity??”rungs on the ladder from mindless, helpless babyhood to the full glory of intellectual maturity and nature of devoting animal stories to children, she recognizes one of the deeper truths about children and their relation to animals??”they have not yet learned that animals on’t really speak or communicate, not because they are mentally inferior and underdeveloped, but because they still proudly display the empathetic connection with the animal world while adults are more likely to dismiss the idea that animals are similar to us and are capable of mirroring our darkest secrets.
Along with this idea, it is also important to discuss the role anthropomorphism plays in literature for children and more specifically, how this transposing of human characteristics on humans should be Just as meaningful and useful for adults as for children. One of he most pertinent modern examples of human and animal relationships in literature is Yann Martel’s novel, “The Life of Pi” This work offers young readers a familiar foray into the world of animal and human encounters by presenting anthropomorphism in “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, while still balancing the very adult themes of seeking and maintaining spirituality and contemplating the grand order of life.
In short, the novel follows a teenage boy through his life in India (told initially in retrospect by an author who is interviewing an aged Pi) and his quest to explore religions that will help him grow closer to God. During this quest, he becomes Catholic, Muslim, and is already Hindu thus proving himself to be accepting of the love of God in all its many forms??”remaining free of the dogma that dominates the lives of adults who attempt to persuade him that he must only choose one religion to practice. This spiritual quest forms the backdrop for much of the foreshadowing of Pi’s eventually loss at sea with a Bengali tiger as his only companion. As the tale winds on, Pi and the tiger, named “Richard Parker” due to a clerical error at the zoo, must survive adrift on the ocean for 227 days.
While the story of their survival is not one filled with the entimental human-animal bonding one would typically associate with children’s literature, they do make a connection even if it is based on survival instinct and knowledge of behavior. The adult themes of religion in “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel make this an animal story not confined to children and children are engaged by the story of survival and close communion with the animal world. The use of anthropomorphism in “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel is almost endless once Pi leaves normal society. With a potentially dangerous tiger as his only companion (aside from God) Pi and the tiger almost trade places.
While the tiger is always thought to be the savage one, it is actually Pi who turns to savagery for survival. This is almost like a case of double anthropomorphism since Pi attributes human characteristics on the tiger while at the same thinks of himself in animal terms. At one point, after killing fish and other ocean creatures to survive, Pi remarks on this anthropomorphic reversal in one of the more important quotes in ‘Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, “It became an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the day I noticed??”with a pinching of the heart??”that I ate like an animal. That this noisy-frantic-unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate” (Pi 225).
In terms of crossing the line (in terms of its status as an “animal story) between the adult theme of man as animal and the children’s literary theme of physically associating so closely with animals and speaking with them (although Richard Parker doesn’t speak back) this makes “Life of Pi” an animal tale that is readable to both children and adults, groups. Anthropomorphism in literature in general and especially in “The Life of P'” by Yann Martel often involves main characters being animals in one way or another. In “The Life of Pi” since his father is runs a zoo, Pi is always surrounded by animals and forms an intense relationship and knowledge of their behavior. He integrates this empirical side of zoology with his spiritual knowledge and thus is proven to be adept at dealing with animals. While he is able to view them with a detached scientific gaze, he is often given to the “childish” notion of anthropomorphizing them. This theme is often revealed in “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.
For instance, he admits to such behavior when he imagines them speaking “fluent English, the heasants complaining in uppity British accents of their tea being cold and the baboons planning their bank robbery getaway in the flat, menacing tones of American gangsters, saying in one of the important quotes from “The Life of P'” by Yann Martel, “l quite frequently dressed wild animals in the tame costumes of imagination” (Pi 43). In the world of children, this is a “normal” and expected tendency, however with adults, such actions would be thought of as inappropriate. It is interesting to note that an adult writer who, looking for ideas, is told that Pi has a tale to tell tells the “frame story’ of Life of Pl. This author has a background in zoology and religion and frequently expresses that the two are hard to separate. For his studies as zoology major, he focused on the sloth.
After talking about a lot of details regarding the lives and behavior of the sloth, he says of the animals, “l felt I was in the presence of upside-down yogis deep in meditation or hermits deep in prayer, wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were beyond the reach of my scientific probing” (Pi 5). In many ways, the reader is given an example of an acceptable way for adults to enjoy the “childish” impulse to anthropomorphize. In this case, it is acceptable because he is combining fields of study to make his creative assessment of the sloth. This highlights an important point about the tendency to impose human characteristics on animals. When adults, such as in this case, anthropomorphize, the adult reader doesn’t give this any thought because it is implicit that since he’s a grown-up, he knows better.
When Pi is given to doing it, it is kept in mind that he is still a child, thus it is a completely different issue. Therefore, it would seem that there is some proof that everyone??”including adults??”has this tendency and the only eason adults deny it is so that they don’t seem foolish. This begs the question of what is wrong with adults putting human characteristics on animals? After all, animals can serve as a mirror??”a reflection of out primal selves. “The emphathizing imagination can be enlisted to enhance the awareness of sentient, cognitive, ethical, and emotional affinities between people and animals” (Malamud 197) thus it seems like a perfectly “grown-up” thing to do.
The fact that the reader is prone to accepting the anthropomorphism in “Life of Pi”, without forethought, that an educated adult’s ct of anthropomorphizing is perfectly fine is quite interesting. It is an almost accepted idea that this is the way he views animals, yet no thought is given to how this is very much the same thing a child would do. Humans of all ages simply accept that there is a tendency to put human characteristics on animals??”the only difference in children’s literature is that they take it at face value while adults presumably do not. LeGuinn brings up a paradox about the way different age groups read books truly speak in human language, and yet in every literature in the world they speak a uman language.
It is so universal a convention that we hardly notice it” (LeGuinn 2003). While this is certainly a valid point in terms of the scope of animal/human literature, the fact that we look past these elements in stories is symbolic of our adult knowledge of our own tendencies. Even the most educated scholars??”those members of the world of the “ultra-grown-up” almost unconsciously admit to the tendency to anthropomorphize. For instance, critics of Melville have most often seen the whale in Moby Dick as “allegorical??”the whale as the embodiment of human society and elationship??”economic, political, psychological, or philosophical” (Armstrong 29).
While it is a funny thought, it would seem that these writers are thus taking the inherent childish impulse to anthropomorphize and putting an academic gloss on it ??”making it sound high and literary while in fact it is only a glorified act of children (albeit using more sophisticated language). In Life of P’, the young boy makes these same sorts of parallels, seeing an orangutan, “the prized Borneo matriarch, zoo star and mother of two fine boys” as the symbol of motherhood is Just the same as the Melville critics seeing the whale as the representation of politics. The only difference is in the level of world experience. Pi is young and only knows his immediate family, thus is likely to use family-related ideas to impose on animals.
On the other hand, these critics are more experienced and are surrounded by “big ideas” thus are likely to put those characteristics onto animals. Although it is slightly comedic, it’s all the same thing??”the same “child’s” game??”the only difference is how the amount of life experience determines the final trait imposed on an animal. This acceptance of the ay humans view and interact with animals is seen in all levels of society outside of literature. For example, many films are, much like Life of Pi, directed at all age levels because even though many adults may not readily accept it??”all ages levels are “guilty’ of anthropomorphizing. Consider for example another whale film that is directed at all ages. The salvation of individual crustaceans (as in the case of Keiko, the ‘star’ of Free Willy) is celebrated because their mammalian characteristics, along with their purported intelligence and benignity, invite in humans a sense of kinship??” ll the more distinctive because it co-exists with other features suggesting radical otherness: colossal proportions, morphological similarity to an utterly different order of creatures; and the occupation of the alien world of the oceans” (Bryld 72). The big ideas that human adults cope with on a daily basis are projected onto this whale: otherness, the importance of intelligence, peace??”all of these are put onto the whale in the film.
The point is that humans have the tendency to see themselves mirrored in other animals and although animal stories are associated with children, the fact emains that all age groups are prone to the same youthful act. Other essays and articles on related literary topics can be found in the Literature Archives at Article Myriad ??? Works Cited Armstrong, Phillip. “Moby Dick and Compassion. ” Society and Animals 12 (2004): 9-33. Bryld, m. & Lykke, N. Cosmodolphins: Feminist Cultural Studies of Technology, Animals, and the Sacred. London: Zed, 2002. LeGuinn, Ursula K. Lecture. May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Series. May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Series, Tempe Arizona. 2 Apr. 2004. Malamud, R. Poetic Animals and Animal Souls. New York: Palgrave, 2003