3/2 Questions

Chez talked about in her intro the idea of pet keeping as training for capitalism and Feurstein & Nolte Odhiambo similarly talk about pet characters contributing to the socialization of the child character while Flegel talked about the creation of the ideas of childhood and pet-hood happening simultaneously. It made me wonder how both Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe contributed to this broader social training/cultural creation that was happening. Particularly I was thinking about the ways that both animals fit themselves into the hierarchies – Beauty is more interested in animal to animal hierarchies (and overall more judgmental) than Joe but Joe seems quite invested in the animal to human service relationship as well as human class hierarchies. Similarly, BJ seems very explicit in the use of animals to socialize the children but that socialization leans hard into the gender roles of the day. Miss Morris talks explicitly in the book about how she used pets to train the boys to become less selfish while Laura was already selfless inherently, but also the text itself teaches that girls (through Laura) should relate to pets through a motherly, care-taking stance whereas boys should both step in to be active saviors as well as being the active teachers (as seen in the training scenes). I’m wondering about the ways that these stories affected the contemporary cultural ideas of both child/pethood but also broader power dynamics including class and gender.

I was really interested in the ways that BJ and BB differ in their creation of animal to animal relationships. Beauty spends a lot of time in conversation (that we hear and witness) with other animals, whereas Joe has communication mostly with the other dogs that he reports not through direct conversation and seems to be even more removed from the other animals. He develops his own relationship with Malta but not through direct conversation, and he experiences the birds I would say almost as human does. It made me think Kidd’s critiques of uncritical humanism. Kidd refers to Derrida’s understanding of the potential of literature to complicate human-centrism but I wonder if these stores, both the choice of an autobiography voice as well as particularly in their animal to animal world building, do complicate this or if they serve to reinforce the human perception of animals. Also of Harde’s discussion of how Phelps used both specificity and distinctness in her dog narratives, which Harde points to as a post-humanist impulse. It seems that both BB and BJ do not have much specificity (Joe himself says he is a ‘brown dog of medium size’ could anything be less specific?) and in some ways the use of the autobiographical voice and their full understanding of the human language and goings on seems to limit the distinctness between human and animal. Should we think of these as precursor to the more post-humanist narratives or do they actually work at odds to that project?

Along the same lines, I was really interested in the way that Joe sometimes talks about his dog-ness. On p74 he says “dogs love variety and excitement, and like to see what is going on outdoors” serving almost as a teaching moment, a translation between dog and human. What is the purpose of this? Is it to try and train human readers to interact with dogs? To humanize Joe using the similarities between dogs and humans? Even more interestingly to me, on p54 he says “if you think it is wrong that I am glad [of Jenkins’ punishment], you must remember that I am only a dog.” What is the ‘only a dog’ really signifying? Is it that he can’t be held to the same ethical/moral standards of humans? To point out his animalness? I find this quote truly fascinating. It also feels at odds with the way that in general in this story animals are shown in service of humans often to teach/socialize (as with the boys or with Mrs. Montague) or when Joe saves the the girls from Jenkins’ thievery and fire. It is only a few quotes here and there that feel like they try to bring out the individualized and/or animalized parts of Joe that stand outside his service to the humans around him.

One thought on “3/2 Questions

  1. Carrie Hintz

    Rose, what amazing questions & what an engagement with the text and its contexts. I am particularly interested in your remarks about service, and humane education….can’t wait to talk about these! CH

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