The Animals in that Country Essay

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Bibi King


Ms. Lalli

June 1, 2009

“The Animals in that Country” by Margaret Atwood: A Commentary

Has North American culture lost its connection to the spiritual world? In Margaret Atwood’s poem The Animals in that Country, she believes this is the case.  Her poem discusses the differences “that country,” and “this country,” place on the significance of animals in their respective societies and their link to the spiritual world. Atwood combines her ironic and subjective tone, her animistic imagery reinforced by her diction, and her narrative structure in order to illustrate the true meaning behind her poem—the lack of the shamanistic perspective evident in today’s modern culture.

Atwood’s ironic tone is made apparent to the reader through the physical narrative structure of the poem.  The speaker begins the poem with, “In that country the animals have the faces of people” (1-2) and indents the second half of the poem to represent a shift in the narrative structure of the poem, The indent of the physical structure in The Animals in that Country augments the physical distancing of humans from animals as the stanzas have a distance between them. The subjective and ironic tone of the speaker is evident when the speaker creates a contrast between the two worlds as the shift begins with, “In this country the animals have faces of animals.” (21-23) This repetition reinforces the distance between humans and animals as animals are not revered in “this country” but treated as just animals. They have neither been incorporated nor valued, and little attention is paid to their role in society in the speaker’s country, creating a subjective tone.. Atwood’s use of anthropomorphism in the first line of the poem illustrates that the animals are a part of that society and are more than just simple creatures as they connect humans to the spiritual world. The use of the word “that” refers to past European culture and the word “this” refers to modern North American culture. The speaker’s subjective tone towards North American culture is evident as they end the poem by stating that, “They [animals] have the faces of no one”. (28-29) This emphasizes the speaker’s hostility towards the West by reinforcing the belief that they have lost all ties to their spiritual self.

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        Atwood uses imagery in The Animals in that Country to show that the disconnection between humans and nature causes nature to become unnatural. This is evident as she contrasts the death of animals in both a natural form and a manufactured form in her poem. The imagery of death in the natural world is supported by diction that provides an elegance and sacredness to the death of an animal. For example, the speaker states, “The fox run politely to the earth, huntsmen standing around him, fixed in their tapestry of manners,” (5-8) “the ceremonial cats,” (3) and “an elegant death” ...

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