Portland State University. Department of English
Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Creative Writing
1 online resource (iii, 102 pages)
Human-animal relationships -- History, Swine, Pigeons, Horses, Cats
Our lives would not be what they are today without animals. From the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, animals provide tangible evidence of their importance every day. But more than that, animals have shaped who we are and what we believe. Often in ways we don't see.
That's what inspired me to write Being Human. This work began as an examination of how humans have altered animals to better match our imaginations and ideals, and too, the way these animals have irrecoverably altered how we live and look at the world. Consider, for example, that before they became physically useful to us in providing meat or skills or companionship, animals were central figures in our stories, mythologies, and religions. All the while, of course, these animals remained both ignorant and at the mercy of whatever we imagined--or needed--them to be.
And what does all of this say about us? What can we learn about ourselves from looking at animals, and more specifically, looking at the way we treat them? In a society where animal flesh comes to us freshly packed and cleanly saran-wrapped, and pets are treated as members of our families, we tend to look at animals as one thing or another. A farm pig is not a companion animal, any more than a cat is a meal-in-waiting. At least not in our culture. We generally see what's convenient or desirable and when things get messy or complicated, we tend to look away. In so doing, we miss the opportunity to clearly see who we really are, what we're capable of, and what, if anything, we might want to change as a result.
I chose four specific animals that show us different sides of ourselves. These beings are both familiar and strange, part of our everyday lives but often only found on the periphery. Each animal symbolizes one of four categories: food, pest, worker and pet. And each connects to a human need: pigs with consumption, pigeons with communication, horses with control and cats with companionship. They are arranged in this order to reflect the deepening complexity of their respective human needs--from the simplest, the need to eat, to the most complex, the need for companionship. (Arguably, control can be considered the most complex, however I chose companionship as the culminating need because it inherently involves all of the other three.)
I hope if I accomplish only one thing, it is this: after reading, you see these animals--and your relationship to them--a little bit differently than before.
Brady, Jocelyn Mary, "Being Human: How Four Animals Forever Changed the Way We Live, What We Believe, and Who We Think We Are" (2014). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1531.