Introduction: Animals as Characters in Literature
Animals have been an integral part of literature and storytelling for centuries. From the talking animals in Aesop’s fables to the animal characters in modern children’s books, authors have used animals as characters to convey their messages and entertain their audiences. In this article, we will explore the reasons why authors frequently use animals as characters in their literary works.
Historical Use of Animals in Literature
The use of animals as characters in literature can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and India. They were often used as symbols in stories and myths to represent certain qualities and traits. For example, in ancient Egyptian mythology, the jackal-headed god Anubis was associated with death and the afterlife. Similarly, in Hindu mythology, the elephant-headed god Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles and the god of new beginnings.
Throughout history, animals have also been used as characters in epic poems such as Homer’s Odyssey and the medieval romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In these works, animals are often used to highlight the hero’s bravery, cunning, or other key characteristics.
Animals as Symbols in Literature
One of the main reasons authors use animals as characters is to use them as symbols to represent certain ideas or themes. For example, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs represent the ruling class, while the other animals represent the working class. Similarly, in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the pig’s head on a stick serves as a symbol for the dark side of human nature.
Animals can also be used to represent certain emotions or qualities. For example, in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the character of Shere Khan, the tiger, represents fear and danger, while Baloo, the bear, represents wisdom and guidance.
Anthropomorphism in Literature
Anthropomorphism is the practice of assigning human characteristics to non-human entities, such as animals. This is a common technique used by authors to make animal characters more relatable to human readers. By making animals talk, wear clothes, and act like humans, authors can create characters that are more identifiable to their audience.
Examples of anthropomorphism can be seen in classic children’s books such as Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. These books feature animal characters that wear clothes, speak like humans, and have emotions and personalities similar to those of human beings.
Empathy and Connection with Animal Characters
Another reason why authors use animal characters is to evoke empathy and create a connection between the reader and the character. By using animals to tell their stories, authors can bypass some of the emotional barriers that exist between human characters and readers. This is because animals are often seen as innocent and vulnerable creatures that need protection.
Through animal characters, authors can address issues such as animal rights, environmental conservation, and social justice. For example, in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the main character’s connection with the Bengal tiger aboard his lifeboat highlights the power of human-animal relationships and the importance of empathy.
Unique Qualities of Animal Characters
Animals also bring unique qualities to literary works that human characters cannot. For example, animal characters can have heightened senses, such as the sense of smell or hearing, that can be used to advance the plot or add suspense. They can also possess physical abilities that humans do not have, such as the ability to fly, swim, or climb.
In addition, animal characters can add humor or whimsy to a story. For example, in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the character of Templeton the rat adds a comedic element to the story, while still being a valuable character in moving the plot forward.
Reflection of Human Society through Animal Characters
Animal characters can also be used to reflect human society and its flaws. By using animal characters to show the same behavior and attitudes that humans have, authors can highlight these issues in a way that is more accessible and less confrontational. For example, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs’ corruption and power-hungry nature reflects the same problems that exist in human societies.
Similarly, in Richard Adams’ Watership Down, the rabbits’ struggles to survive and protect their community from external threats mirrors the challenges that humans face in protecting their own communities.
Utilization of Animal Characters in Children’s Literature
Animal characters are particularly popular in children’s literature because they provide a way for children to learn about the world around them in a fun and engaging way. They can be used to teach children about different animals and their behaviors, as well as important life lessons such as friendship, courage, and perseverance.
Examples of animal characters in children’s literature include Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in which the main character learns about metamorphosis and growth, and Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, in which the mischievous cat teaches the children about responsibility and consequences.
Animal Characters in Fables and Moral Tales
Animal characters are also frequently used in fables and moral tales. These stories use animals to teach important moral lessons to the reader. For example, in Aesop’s fables, animals are used to teach lessons such as the importance of hard work (The Ant and the Grasshopper) and the dangers of greed (The Tortoise and the Hare).
Similarly, in Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables, animals such as the fox, the wolf, and the lion are used to teach lessons about morality and human behavior.
Conclusion: Significance of Animal Characters in Literature
In conclusion, animals as characters have played an important role in literature throughout history. They have been used as symbols, given human qualities through anthropomorphism, and used to create empathy and connection with the reader. Animal characters bring unique qualities to literary works that human characters cannot, and they can be used to reflect human society and teach important moral lessons.