Tag Archives: Charlotte’s Web

What have we in common with animals?

You’ve seen the elephant painting pictures on You Tube. Is it a trick? Is the trainer driving the elephant to make the marks? Has the elephant suffered for their art? How else can these sanctuaries raise money to look after these abandoned creatures? It’s well known that elephants are intelligent, sentient beings. Maybe they wouldn’t choose to paint pictures if they didn’t have to but a beast’s gotta eat …

You know that chimpanzees can recognise themselves in a mirror. You’ve heard dolphins are retiring from the USA navy and you’ve heard about The Great Apes Project. You know that some chimpanzees have been taught sign language to the level of a normal four–year-old human. In a controversial remark Peter Singer pointed out that whatever test we propose as a means for separating humans from non-humans, then some humans will fail as well.

cover of In Defense of Animals by Peter Singer

Infants are neither rational nor autonomous. They do not use language and they do not possess a sense of justice. Are they therefore to be treated like non-human animals, to be fattened for the table, if we should fancy the taste of their flesh, or to be used to find out if some new shampoo will blister human eyeballs? …[…]… those unfortunate enough to be born with brain damage so severe that they will never be able to reason, or talk or do any of the other things that are often said to distinguish us from non-human animals. (Pg 5 In Defence)  ( … but they are still awarded the rights and privileges of our species.)

In contrast to Singer, American legal scholar, Gary L. Francione, states in his blog discussing the Great Apes Project, that using any animal for the benefit of humans, is repugnant. Although he was involved in setting up the project, he has come to think that The Great Apes project is elitist. He prefers the Abolitionist approach which means humans should not lean on our animal cousins at all. We should all be vegan.

Although chimpanzees are more like humans, perhaps, like humans, they have certain psychological mechanisms that allow them to “shut down” in the face of stress that rats, mice, and other sentient nonhumans do not have. In any event, it is very dangerous to play the “X suffers more than Y” game. This is precisely the mischief that has led us to think that the use of chimpanzees in research is justified in the first place—we supposedly suffer more than they do because we have even more of the “special” mental characteristics so it is acceptable to use them so that we can suffer less.

Clearly we have much in common with animals; our biology, our sentience and our devotion to others. We are all part of nature.

           ‘But it’s unfair,’ cried Fern. ‘The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?’

Mr Arable smiled. ‘Certainly not,’ he said, looking down at his daughter with love. ‘But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a runty pig is another.’

‘I see no difference,’ replied Fern, still hanging on to the axe. ‘This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of.’ (Pg 8 Charlotte)

Cover of Charlotte's web by EB White

I guess humans are animals too!

Animals threatened by humans

Many books explore the relationship between humans and animals. Pleasantly, in Emily Rodda’s Dog Tales and Dodie Smith’s The 101 Dalmatians, dogs keep pets. Human pets. Very happily.

Cover of Emily Rodda's Dog Tales

In Watership Down by Richard Adams and Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman, careless drivers offer great threat to innocent animals by accident. (Flattened and dried cane toad relatives are stored like old vinyl records.)

The rats and the bandicoots are having a war over scarce food in Patricia Wrightson’s Moon-dark. The animals have to call on the moon spirit to help them. The human threat is short sightedness and ignorance – clearing a forest has caused a food shortage for animals already crowded by habitat loss.
In The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell, the human threat is greed. The very day her foal is born she knows

…her son would be hunted as she was and as her own cream-coloured mother had been before her. (Pg 5 Brumby)

Forest by Sonya Hartnett is about a cat and two kittens; lured into a cardboard box and abandoned by a mean human in the forest. They find they are surrounded by feral cats and have to learn the ways of the wild cat tribe. Kian cannot relinquish his hold on his old tame ways and sets out to lead the kittens in a return to domestic life. They have finally left the dark forest, crossing fields towards more heavily populated areas, when they find a path and coming toward them, down the path are two men.

It seemed to Kian there was no reason to run: running was the reaction of a wild cat, a frightened cat, a cat who had no need of the human’s respect, but Kian was not wild, and he would not let the kittens be wild. Soon he would bring them home, and the siblings’ lives would be misery if they learned the wild cats fear. (Pg 201 Forest)

But he was wrong. He should have been afraid. Very afraid, because the humans kill him. For fun. Similarly in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith explores human cruelty.

Cover of 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith

            They went through the open gate and up the cobbled path, wagging their tails and looking with love at the little boy—and the bread and butter. The child smiled at them fearlessly and waved the bread and butter. And then, when they were only three or four yards away, he stooped, picked up a stone and slung it with all his force. He gave a squeal of laughter when he saw the stone strike Pongo, then went in and slammed the door. (Pg 67 Dalmatians)

…[…]…

Missis said: “The bad little boy was only bad because he had never known dogs.” And she was probably right. (Pg 131 Dalmatians)

In Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White about a pig called Wilbur and The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith about a pig called Babe, things are a bit more deliberate. Animals are dinner.

“That was a pig.”

“What will the boss do with it?”

“Eat it,” said Fly, “when it’s big enough.”

“Will he eat us,” said another rather nervously, “when we’re big enough?”

“Bless you,” said his mother. “People only eat stupid animals. Like sheep and cows and ducks and chickens. They don’t eat clever ones like dogs.” (Pg 17 Sheep-Pig)

The fact that humans can threaten animals: subdue them and have dominion over them, means that humans must be different to animals.  We’ll explore this idea in my next post.

Cover of Charlotte's web by EB White