Introduction: Black Hearts, Red Spades

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The main findings of each chapter are now summarized in order to draw conclusions about the ways in which the thin line between human and animal is reflected in Canadian fiction. The introductory chapter provides the basic concepts that have formed the perception of animals in Western cultures and how the human-animal relationship has changed in time, including a brief presentation of the animal advocacy movements and their unofficial bible, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (1975). The manner of cohabitation of human and nonhuman animals has often defined the resulting relationship between these two sides. From this perspective, there is a tendency towards a complete marginalisation of animals from people’s lives together with a total human dominance over them. As a result, the real-life encounters with animals are often artificial, when the animals are either removed from their natural habitat and context, or they are presented through various media only as fabricated, unreal concepts of the real animal. The debate over animal advocacy is currently most topical in relation to pollution caused by intensive farming practices and their deteriorative effect on the environment, and it has been receiving more and more media attention in this connection. All of these human-animal encounters are projected onto various works of art, from which the following chapter focuses particularly on English-language fiction, and the rest of the thesis exclusively on the fiction of Canadian authors writing in English, from Ernest Thompson Seton to Margaret Atwood.

Literature has many functions and skilful writers can use them to affect the readers’ minds, or even instigate changes in their actions. The first chapter is divided into two main parts, in the first of which the ways of portraying animals in fiction are discussed. Mostly, animals in fiction appear as symbols or metaphors, they usually play the passive part in the story. However, there is also another possibility of using animals in fiction, and that is presenting them for what they really are, as creatures that live, breathe and share the same environment with human beings, and by this awarding them with the agency that they actually possess. In the MaddAddam trilogy, Atwood has illustrated how denying agency to living creatures – even if genetically engineered – might prove fatal to the humankind. The second part of the first chapter introduces the “nature fakers” controversy, an early-twentieth-century North-American literary debate over the scientific accuracy of the allegedly real animal stories, which has forever affected the viewing of animal writings and has motivated writers to avoid anthropomorphism, or at least not to claim to write realistic animal stories. Atwood comments that every story written from the point of view of the animal is inherently false, because it is “impossible to get the real inside story” from the animal itself, as it does “not speak a human language” (Survival 74-75).

The distinctively Canadian approach to treating literary animals is addressed in the second chapter. The genre of animal story is crucial for Canadian literature, as it has kept its popularity since its heyday at the turn of the nineteenth century with the wild animal stories by E. T. Seton and Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, and the dog story Beautiful Joe by M. M. Sanders. The veracity of this claim can be proven by the popularity of contemporary Canadian animal stories, such as the wild animal story about elephants The White Bone (1998) by Barbara Gowdy, or André Alexis’s unusual dog story Fifteen Dogs (2015). What is so special about the Canadian literary portrayal of animals is the fact that, as opposed to American literature where the story is focused rather on the human characters, Canadian stories focus mainly on the animal protagonists, sympathize with them and depict them as realistically as possible. In addition to Seton and Roberts, the later works of Grey Owl, Fred Bodsworth or Farley Mowat also depict the lives of their animal characters, which often end badly.

Keeping the aforementioned features of Canadian literature in mind, the third chapter provides a cross-section of works since the 1970s to the present for the purpose of recording the most prominent recent trends in Canadian fiction. As the research shows, these key patterns include the symbolic use or omission of animals; contesting master narratives that have affected the human-animal relationship in Western cultures; animal stories narrated directly by the animal protagonists; discussion over the right to eat animals and keep them in zoos and circuses; and – the general topic of this thesis – challenging the thin line between human and animal. Of course, this list is not exhaustive. However, there is one more controversial topic that should be at least mentioned here, as for most people this will probably be the first association when thinking about the case where the line between human and animal is the thinnest. I have the Hominidae in mind, the great apes or hominids, a category which includes orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzee and bonobos, and the human. Not surprisingly, this issue has been addressed by contemporary Canadian writers too, including works like Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal (2016) and Colin McAdam's A Beautiful Truth (2013), both mentioning chimpanzees, or from the category of commercial fiction Sara Gruen’s Ape House (2010), which tells about the exploitation of bonobos.

The thin line between human and animal is confirmed in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy as well as in other works of Canadian fiction dealing with animals. The analysis of Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy demonstrates the author’s visionary powers and abilities to pinpoint major global environmental problems that are often not talked about, or that people have already become indifferent to, with a panache that Atwood shows also in her first dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (1983). The MaddAddam trilogy highlights mainly the bioethical implications and possible impacts of the unchecked genetic engineering of animals or the production of real artificial meat. Atwood’s devised transgenic splices of different species, mainly the genetically engineered, large, balloon-like pigs with implanted human neocortex tissue that Atwood names pigoons, remind us of the slippery boundary between what is still considered to fall within the category labelled human, and what already falls under animal. At present, genetic engineering blurs these boundaries even more effectively than it has been possible ever before, and MaddAddam showcases what might await us in a future if we do not stop denying agency to these genetically manipulated creatures.

All in all, Atwood does not offer possible solutions to the problems that she points out, she mainly instigates further debate by indicating where the root of the trouble is. In my opinion, it is not very clear what her own stance on the question of treatment of animals is, as she does not explicitly favour any of the solutions and leaves it to the reader to decide. Jovian Parry believes that Atwood generally ridicules strict vegetarianism, mainly through the character of Jimmy (251). My overall impression from the themes the novels offer is rather depressing and hopeless, as all of the various groups in MaddAddam trilogy that promote a certain lifestyle eventually find themselves in a dead-end situation, and most of those who survive the plague have generally more good luck than readiness or influence on their fate. Nevertheless, and as the saying goes, the fortune favours the prepared, therefore many of those left after humankind is wiped-out belong to the ranks of God’s Gardeners, the ones who have expected the apocalypse to come and have systematically prepared for it. Another group that lasted are the three Painballers - outlaws who lost even the last flicker of humanity in the Painball arena, where they had to fight for their life by any means possible. On top of that, there is yet one more group which is devised to live through the catastrophe, the Children of Crake, the bioengineered humanoid creatures who ultimately remain one of the only hopes for the continuation of humankind. The fact that only the well-prepared foresighted Gardeners together with the inhuman Painballers were able to survive the catastrophe – not counting the Crakers who were pre-programmed for survival from the very beginning – is not very promising. And as many of Atwood’s predictions have already turned true, such as the luminous green rabbits glowing in the dark or the spoat/gider, i.e. goat which carries spider silk in milk (Galbreath 2), the future of humankind as foreshadowed in Atwood’s visions, does not seem very promising at all.

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This Master’s Diploma Thesis discusses mainly the issue of human-animal relationship and its reflection in Canadian literature. The introduction offers an overview of the development in the perception of animals in Western societies, together with a brief introduction of the fundamental ideas of animal advocates. The first chapter examines the ways in which animals are depicted in works of literature, and the “nature fakers” affair is foreshadowed. The second chapter focuses solely on Canadian literature and the development in portraying animals in fiction. The chapter starts by introducing the essential critical works and opinions on Canadians and their perception of animals not only in literature. Furthermore, the chapter presents the most significant authors and their works of fiction, which have also affected the present-day perception of animals in relation to humans in Canadian literature. The second chapter is concluded with the comparison of depicting animals in Canadian literature in contrast to British and American literatures. In the third chapter, some of the recent trends in portraying animals in Canadian fiction are outlined. In the last chapter the dystopian trilogy MaddAddam by the contemporary Canadian writer Margaret Atwood is analysed, focusing on the presence and meaning of the human-animal relationship, and the possible messages about the current global situation hidden in these three novels. The principal issues discussed include genetic engineering of animals and its possible impacts, and meat as a concept and its variations in a dystopian environment. This thesis proves that the human-animal relationship in various forms has always been a popular theme in Canadian fiction.


V mé diplomové práci se zabývám zejména tématem vztahu člověka a zvířete a jeho odrazem v kanadské literatuře. Úvodní kapitola nabízí přehled vývoje ve vnímání zvířat v západních společnostech, spolu se stručným představením základních myšlenek zastánců zvířat. V první kapitole je rozebráno, jakými způsoby zvířata vystupují v literárních dílech a je nastíněna aféra nazývaná „nature fakers controversy“. Druhá kapitola se zaměřuje na kanadskou literaturu a její vývoj ve způsobu zobrazování zvířat. Kapitola začíná představením základních kritických děl a názorů týkajících se Kanaďanů a jejich vnímáním zvířat nejen v literatuře. V této kapitole jsou dále představeni nejvýznamnější autoři a díla, která měla vliv také na současné vnímání zvířat ve vztahu k lidem v kanadské literatuře. Druhou kapitolu zakončuje srovnání způsobu vnímání zvířat v kanadské literatuře v porovnání s britskou a americkou literaturou. Ve třetí kapitole jsou nastíněny některé ze současných trendů vyobrazování zvířat v dílech kanadských spisovatelů. Poslední kapitola předkládá analýzu dystopické trilogie MaddAddam současné kanadské spisovatelky Margaret Atwoodové, se zaměřením na přítomnost a význam vztahu člověka a zvířete, a možných poselství pro současnou celosvětovou situaci ukrytých v těchto třech v románech. Zásadními rozebíranými tématy jsou genetické inženýrství u zvířat a jeho možné důsledky, a maso jako koncept a jeho variace v dystopickém prostředí. Tato práce dokazuje, že vztah mezi člověkem a zvířetem v různých podobách je neustále oblíbeným tématem v kanadské literatuře.

1 Seton in “Note to the Reader”, Wild Animals I Have Known (11).

2 Atwood in MaddAddam (48).

3 Atwood in The Year of the Flood (43).

4 King James Bible, Genesis 9:2.

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