Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prodigal Summer: Meticulous Metaphors: Amorous Animals

I think that it's apparent now how much metaphor Kingsolver puts into her novels. Some critics say that metaphors are old fashioned, while others say that modern generations are losing the taste for metaphor that was evident in the Shakespearean era. While this is the final metaphor post for Prodigal Summer, I would just like to add, before I start the analysis, that I think metaphor is one of the most quality aspects of writing. Both the deepest depth and fullest-spanned breadth can be expressed with metaphor. Kingsolver's metaphor is unique, such that every time the metaphor comes up, another level of the depth is added on to it.
Moths. Predators. Birds. Chestnuts. Butterflies. Trees. These are all aspects of the largest metaphor of this novel: wildlife. At first I thought this metaphor simply included animals, and nothing else. I proceeded with finding a meaning behind each animal mentioned more than twice (moths, predators, birds). While the wrong overall approach, I think dissecting the metaphor of wildlife in this way will make it easiest to understand.
I'll start with moths. It may seem easy to understand the metaphor because of Kingsolver's way of titling sections with "Moth Love," "Old Chestnuts," and "Predators," but figuring out who each of these titles represents is just dipping your foot into the shallow pool of metaphor. Kingsolver is quick to use her moth metaphor to describe the relationship of Lusa and her late husband. The thing you must understand is that "moths speak to each scent" (Summer 47). Moths "tell their love across the field" (Summer 47). Lusa described her morning, with her husband outside in the fields and she in the kitchen, as "perfectly windless and scentless" (Summer 47). This tells us that they basically had a loveless relationship toward the end of his life. Nevertheless, Lusa mourned when her husband passed. The depth of their relationship went deeper than one would suspect. This pushes me to inquire whether or not the moth metaphor goes deeper than I would suspect.... Are moths simply representative of people? Since humans are a species of mammals in this world, are we, from a global perspective, merely another species of animal?

Or, instead, are we the quintessential species?

From the layman's perspective, humans are prime! We are the furthest evolved, most intelligent, and conscious beings on the earth, which is why we rule what we rule, we conquer whatever land we want to conquer. The only things standing in our way are other humans. We own animals! We domesticate them, and put them to our use. This must be true because animals don't drive, sail, or build. Animal's can't control an airplane, complete a math test, or understand how a seesaw works. We are the fundamental living things on this earth.

What would Barbara Kingsolver say? Rather, what would she write?

Well, she has written! Her words, rather her animal metaphor, in Prodigal Summer clearly state her main point. At least, it's clearly stated after doing some thoughtful digging. The different animals are symbolic for the different emotions humans feel. The moth represents love. This has been explained above, through the comparison to Lusa's loveless, scentless, life and a moth's way of using scent to express love. It is expressed again, in a way, when Lusa says she's "like a moth...flying in spirals" (Summer 163). Infatuation sometimes befuddles us, and so going in spirals while in love would be expected.

The predator metaphor starts with Deanna's friend Eddie, who was "watching [her] like a damn predator and [thinks he has her] now" (Summer 99). The predators in all of us lurk in the shadows until the moment comes when they overtake our minds. The predators are anything from forbidden desires to sinful urges. This metaphor now seems complete... but this is Kingsolver we're reading. There's always more to come....

"To kill a natural predator is a sin" (Summer 179). This sentence provides that subtle hint of depth to the metaphor, which Kingsolver never leaves behind. People are diverse. The world contains different races, just as "out in your field you have predators and herbivores" (Summer 274). Punishing someone because of their race, their place in the food chain, is unthought of in Kingsolver's mind. Predators and herbivores alike must be accepted, embraced by nature, because they are a part of this life-filled world. Life, may it be an old chestnut, a lithe bird, or a grand tree, is precious. Life is a rainbow of color only because of the myriad of living things that inhabit the Earth.

~Father Nature, Editor

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