Animal dreams – Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver was born in Maryland but spent her early childhood in Kentucky where her father was a doctor ministering to the rural poor. Later they moved to Africa for a while where too her father worked among Africans who lived in deprived conditions. Perhaps these influences encouraged her to become an activist protesting against the Vietnam War and later the first Gulf War. She worked as a science writer, producing articles which appeared in journals and newspapers. Later in life, she worked at raising all the food she and her family consumed on their farm in Virginia. Eating locally sourced food is what she believes in.
Relevance of the Title
Loyd Peregrina the Apache who was Codi’s boyfriend when she was in school says, "Animals dream about the things they do in the day time just like people do. If you want sweet dreams, you've got to live a sweet life." But Codi has not lived a sweet life so she has recurring nightmares of going blind. It is only much later that she reconciles her past and present experiences.
The Significance of Ecology
Barbara Kingsolver, like Codi, had a science background. Their concerns were biology, ecology and agriculture. By connecting them up, Kingsolver shows that it makes political and economic sense. The two plots on which the novel moves are Codi’s search for her identity and a sense of purpose and Stitch and Bitch Clubs search for a way to save the town from extinction. The town faces danger from the polluted waters of the river which their only water source. Grace’s economy is based on agriculture but the fruit are showing signs of destruction – yellowing leaves and the dropping of immature fruit. On a global level, Hallie, Codi’s sister is in Nicaragua teaching the locals sustainable agricultural practices.
Family and Community
Everyone in Grace is related is related so it is like they are one big family. Codi had always felt alienated in Grace. But it is when she starts delving into her family’s history that she finds her place in the community. Having family ties and community links are essential for the society to develop and prosper. Among most Native American, a family has a woman at its center. But the arrival of the Whites saw this matrilineal tradition being eroded. In Grace most families have a strong woman at the center. Dr. Homer who does not have his wife finds it difficult to keep his family together.
Codi is the narrator of the novel; she is the protagonist too. Early in life she lost her mother and when she was in her teens she lost her unborn child. Her losses hound her in adult life. She scared to open up in case she loses more but longs to add meaning to her life. A sense of being an outsider in her community troubles her. It is only towards the end of the story that the missing pieces fall into place and she realizes that she is an intrinsic part of her community.
He is Codi and Hallie’s father. Animal Dreams is his story too. The third person narratives are from his perspective. He has been in the town for long and knows everyone but he has kept himself aloof. He loves his daughter desperately; it takes Codi awhile to realize this. The tight control Dr. Homer has over his feelings loosens when Alzheimer’s disease takes control of his mind. When that happens he is able to speak to Codi with the love he had kept hidden from her.
Hallie is Codi’s sister. She passionately connected with the land in which she lives. She knows that quick action is needed as land will not wait forever. She forsakes her comfort when she moves to Nicaragua; it turns out she forsakes her life too there.
Animal Dreams has chapters in third person narrative which are from Doc Homer’s perspective. They deal with his dreams and memories of the past and the present. When the narrative switches to the first person, detailing Codi’s life, the plot goes forward. Codi lives in Tucson, Arizona with Hallie her sister and Carlo, her boyfriend. Hallie leaves for Nicaragua where she plans to educate people on sustainable agricultural practices. Codi, who is at a loose-end, plans to leave for Grace, Arizona where she grew up and where her father Doc Homer still lives. Her father who is a remote person now is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. It is not a happy return for Codi as she has never felt she belonged to the community who live in Grace. Grace is where she lost her unborn child when she was just fifteen. Her mother died when Codi was only three. So the place has sad memories for her. But now her father is ill and she hopes to be of help.
In Grace, Codi lives in her friend’s guest house. As they talk we learn something of the town and Codi’s past. She was in love with Loyd Peregrina, a Native American and it was his child that she was carrying when she miscarried. Though her father was a doctor, she does not tell him or anyone else about the loss. Through Doc Homer’s memories in related in third person we come to know that he was aware of it but she does not know that. Soon Codi meets Loyd again and this rekindles their relationship but there is some ambivalence in her.
This uncertainty is mirrored in the town’s future too. Bad mining practices and unethical disposal of mining waste if poisoning the water that is used to water the pecan and fruit orchards which is mainstay of the town. The Environment Protection Authority has only unviable suggestions to make. The women in Grace led by the Stitch and Bitch Club look for initiatives that will draw attention to the town’s plight. Codi joins them sceptically at first, but gradually she becomes fully involved. The acceptance she gets makes her feel part of the community for the first time. The club makes piñatas which are decorated with local peacock feathers. Anyone who buys it also gets a note on the problems Grace faces.
Then comes the news that Hallie has been abducted by anti-government forces backed by the US. Codi is distraught with worry but all she can do is hope. She tries to rally public opinion to find her sister. Meanwhile, art dealer arrives in Grace with a plan to declare the piñatas a heritage item and the town of Grace to be designated a Historic Place. It will then get federal funding and protection of its water resources. Codi throws all her energy into this but she still does not plan to stay on Grace for any length of time.
Then word comes saying that Hallie’s body has been found in Nicaragua. She had been shot by the Contras. Codi feels she has to get away from Grace to overcome her sorrow. She plans to join her boyfriend Carlo though it is Loyd she loves. As she waits to take off, she learns that the plane has engine trouble. She takes that as a sign and decides to return to Grace. She holds a memorial meeting for Hallie. She finally tells her father of the baby she miscarried. He reveals that he was aware ot it but did not know how to talk about it. A year goes past; Codi finds peace finally. She is now once again carrying Loyd’s baby.
- I am the sister who didn't go to war. I can only tell you my side of the story. Hallie is the one who went south, with her pickup truck and her crop-disease books and her heart dead set on a new world.
These are the first words by Codi, presented in first person. There is a defensive tone about them as though she has to justify herself. Hallie is absent in the story though her unseen presence affects it powerfully. Codi’s is also affected by her sister. In contrast with Codi, Hallie seems to know exactly what she wants and how to go about it.
- The stones were mostly the same shape, rectangular, but all different sizes; there would be a row of large stones, and then two or three thinner rows, then a couple of middle-sized rows. There was something familiar about the way they fit together. In a minute it came to me. They looked just like cells under a microscope.
It is when Codi and Loyd go up to the Indian reservations that she sees the stones that had been arranged many hundreds of years ago. Though the Indian did not have sophisticated machinery, they had arranged the stones with precision. Being a scientist, Codi sees that the arrangement of the stones resembles the structure of a cell.
- By the time they were back in Grace on the last evening bus, I was later informed, the Stitch and Bitch Club had already laid plans to come back in ten days with five hundred peacock piñatas. There would only be two deviations from the original plan. First, each piñata would be accompanied by a written history of Grace and its heroic struggle against the Black Mountain Mining Company. To my shock I was elected, in absentia, to write this epic broadside and get it mimeographed at the school
Most of the time, Codi feels she does belong to Grace. There is a sense of alienation in her. But when Grace is faced with the prospect of ruin due to its polluted water supply, she decides to join forces with the Stitch and Bitch which is a motley group of the town’s women. They are skilled at making piñatas a skill they now plan to use to publicize their town’s plight. Anyone who buys a piñata will also get a write up highlighting the history of the town and its present troubles. The Club has chosen Codi to write the notice. She feels she is getting sucked into the vortex of the town’s affairs.