Animalistic Side of Literature

April 2, 2008
By Zahara Yee, Braintree, MA

Take a look at your neighborhood playground, watch the children for a while and soon enough, you’ll find a few youngsters playing a classic game of Pretend. If it’s not a make-believe family cooking a make-believe dinner, they’re probably jumping around on all fours barking or trying to fly with their ears like Dumbo. So what exactly is the appeal of people transforming into animals? In many stories including Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a human is turned into an animal, more often than not, as a punishment or curse such as in The Swan Princess or Beauty and the Beast. However, not all stories consider morphing into animals as a stroke of bad luck. Take for instance, author K. A. Applegate’s science fiction series “Animorphs” where five teenagers have the ability to turn into animals and protect the world against alien invaders. As animal transformations can be considered both a gift and a curse, such mutations can be found as the center plotline in several pieces of literature.

So many fairy tales and stories involve animal transformations, but why does this detail make stories so much more appealing? Herein lays the question.

As humans, we always feel the desire to want what we can not have. So what is more intriguing than living life through the eyes of an animal considering how we’ll never be able to have it? Writers, with their inert ability to conjure up stories and adventures that we secretly wish defined our lives, use animal transformations as a classical way to fulfill our dreams of being someone else. Inside every person, we have an internal animal that is waiting to show itself and by reading stories with transformations, we experience what it would feel like to be that animal. For the few hours that we are absorbed into a book, we live the life that we wish we had. We all secretly want to be able to morph into a creature of our choice and battle evil alien invaders or turn into some ghastly beast in a castle of magical, talking furniture while waiting for love to save you before the last petal falls from the rose that you keep in the forbidden West Wing.

So it’s agreed that stories with animal transformations are particularly interesting but what goes into the choice that is made as to what animal the person shifts into? In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa changes into something between a beetle and a cockroach. He then lives a secluded life in his room where his family casts him away. Eventually, Gregor dies with one last sigh and his family realizes they are better off without such a monster in the house. The decision Franz Kafka made to turn Gregor into some hideous bug was a suitable one since if Gregor was instead a fluffy bunny, his family most likely would not have shunned him from their lives and the ending of the story would have been entirely different. Not to mention, the theme of the novella would have been more along the lines of: fluffy bunnies are the basis for healthy family relationships. Since Gregor was not a poofy rabbit we felt pity towards the fact that he was transformed into a horrific insect. The mood the author portrayed was supported by Gregor’s misfortune and the choice made to make him a creature that epitomizes filth and disgust was essential to the theme of Metamorphosis.

Stories with people transforming into animals are alluring to readers due to the fact that we want to live a life that isn’t our own. We want to pretend to be someone else and animals are the farthest thing from who we are. Not only that, but the species of animal you turn into needs to reflect the situation you are in or your personality in order for the transformation to be meaningful. However, people morphing into animals aren’t the only types of transformations that happen between creatures and humans. In The Little Mermaid, a mermaid princess becomes human through a magical spell and that tale was just as enthralling as it has lasted over 100 years. Transformations in general are just an intriguing topic to write and read about and that is why it is seen so often in literature.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Mar. 11 2017 at 6:15 pm
Sparaxis SILVER, Saint Marys, Georgia
7 articles 4 photos 268 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you keep on picking on me, I'll mess up again. This time, on PURPOSE."

I don't think I'd want to live the life of a giant roach though XD.


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