Other Nations: Animals in Modern Literature

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The world’s first anthology designed to employ the power of fiction to illuminate our moral relationship with animals, Other Nations boasts a superb collection of writings from writers of great distinction — including Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and Alice Walker.

By organizing the literary pieces according to the means by which human beings relate to the animals discussed — as companions, as sources of food, as objects of sport and entertainment, and as subjects in scientific research — preeminent scholars Tom Regan and Andrew Linzey enable readers to relate these texts (and these animals) to their own experiences and to the manifold issues now discussed in public forums. While the editors believe the time is ripe for radical change in the way human beings see and treat animals, this collection nonetheless presents various and contrary viewpoints, leaving readers to come to their own moral conclusions.

2010. Other Nations: Animals and Modern Literature. Ed. with Andrew Linzey. Baylor: Baylor University Press.

An Excerpt from the Introduction
by Tom Regan

Human beings seem always to have had a special fascination for other animals. The earliest paintings of our ancestors, those that adorn the caves at Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain, depict stags, horses, wild cattle, and bison. What possible symbolism these paintings contain, what questions they were meant to answer or Stone Age aspirations to satisfy, are likely to remain forever obscure. What is clear, and what is significant, is that the first painters were drawn, not to the sun or the moon, not to the trees or the flowers, not even to the human form as their principal subject matter, but to other-than-human animals.

The magnetism other animals have exerted on human creativity hardly is confined to ancient painting. Much of the great sculpture from both the East and the West, and from the ancient down through the modern periods, involves representations of nonhuman animals.

The same is no less true of the decorative arts and crafts, and, of course, of literature in general. There is not a great painter or sculptor, not a great decorative artist or craftsperson, not a great thinker or writer who has not somewhere along the line been drawn imaginatively into the world of other animals and, after having visited, returned with some work — a bowl, a shape, a story — to commemorate the journey.

The history of our relationships with other animals has not always been salutary for them. Today most people find the spectacle of the Roman circus all but incomprehensible. The scale of the destruction, with hundreds, sometimes thousands of wild animals slain to the delight of the spectators, with a carnival atmosphere serving as backdrop, might make us loathe to admit the rich capacity for depravity sometimes lurking in the human breast. And yet echoes of the Roman blood baths live on, in illegal dogfights and festive bullfights, for example.

There is a growing number of thinkers, however, in philosophy, theology, and legal theory, who are turning their attention to animal protection issues (animal rights, broadly conceived). Similar developments characterize much of contemporary painting and dance, film and theater, sculpture and poetry. The present collection reveals that recent fiction and other literary expressions display the same tendencies. Well before animal rights was recognized to be the important issue of social justice that it is, writers were seeking to plumb the depths of the human psyche, there to find how much cruelty, how much compassion, resides in each of us. Not surprisingly, not all these literary explorers have returned with the same message. Some offer words of hope; others, words of despair; still others report that all is well just as it is. The present anthology permits writers with something important to say, whatever its content, the opportunity to say it.

Because humans encounter and relate to other animals in different settings, we have grouped the readings accordingly. There are common themes, of course, whatever the setting of the encounter or the identities of the humans and animals involved. Nevertheless, it remains true that raising nonhuman animals for food differs in some obvious ways from chancing upon a snake while hiking. Our method of organization reflects these differences. The remainder of the introduction highlights a few of the many themes found in the several selections.

Humans Encounter Other Animals
The first two stories, both about a man’s unexpected encounter with a snake, establish the broad terms of the dialectic present in some of the other readings. In Stephen Crane’s ‘The Snake,’ the central figure views a rattlesnake with “hatred and fear.”

In the man was all the wild strength of the terror of his ancestors, of his race, of his kind. A deadly repulsion had been handed from man to man through long dim centuries.

Crane’s protagonist does not ask himself whether his hatred and fear are rational, or whether other emotions might or should replace the “deadly repulsion” to which Crane alludes. It is enough that he feels what he feels, enough that he experiences the urge to conquer and destroy what is alien, what is “other,” a “natural‚” urge, one “handed from man to man through long dim centuries.”

William Saroyan’s main character is importantly different. The same initial reactions and feelings are present: “the instinctive fear of reptiles,” “the [intention] to kill the snake,” the fear of “touching it with his hands.” But something happens. He speaks to the snake. He whistles. He even sings. In Italian! And then something else happens: “He was amazed at himself suddenly; it had occurred to him to let the snake flee, to let it glide away and be lost in the lowly worlds of its kind.” But the impulse to permit the freedom of the “other” is quickly challenged:

Why should he allow it to escape?

He lifted a heavy boulder from the ground and thought: Now I shall bash your head with this rock and see you die. To destroy that evil grace, to mangle that sinful loveliness.

Thus do we find in the stories by Crane and Saroyan, in miniature as it were, the larger patterns of opposition identified by philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, social historians, and others. On the one hand stands the human person, alienated from nature in general and undomesticated animals in particular, in bondage to the hatred and fear of what is wild and untamed, knowing only the urge to subdue and destroy. On the other hand we find the human person struggling to reclaim a lost kinship with nature, nonhuman animals included, risking thoughts and deeds that others have foreclosed, and exploring the possibilities of peaceful coexistence and shared liberation with the denizens of (in Beston’s searing imagery) those other nations with whom we share the earth. Which option, if either, is the truer and the better is among the unifying questions addressed by many of the writers whose work is collected here, whatever the identity of the animals involved and regardless of the context of human interaction with them…