Has North American culture lost its connection to the spiritual world? In Margaret Atwood’s poem The Animals in that Country, she believes this is the case. Her poem discusses the differences “that country” and “this country” place on the significance of animals in their respective societies and their link to the spiritual world. Atwood combines her ironic and subjective tone, her animistic imagery reinforced by her diction, and her narrative structure to illustrate the true meaning behind her poem-the lack of the shamanistic perspective evident in today’s modern culture.
Atwood’s ironic tone is made apparent to the reader through the physical narrative structure of the poem. The speaker begins the poem with, “In that country, the animals have the faces of people” (1-2) and indents the second half of the poem to represent a shift in the narrative structure of the poem, The indent of the physical structure in The Animals in that Country augments the physical distancing of humans from animals as the stanzas have a distance between them. The subjective and ironic tone of the speaker is evident when the speaker creates a contrast between the two worlds as the shift begins with, “In this country the animals have faces of animals.” (21-23)
This repetition reinforces the distance between humans and animals as animals are not revered in “this country” but treated as just animals. They have neither been incorporated nor valued, and little attention is paid to their role in society in the speaker’s country, creating an emotional tone. Atwood’s use of anthropomorphism in the poem’s first line illustrates that the animals are a part of that society and are more than just simple creatures as they connect humans to the spiritual world. The word “that” refers to past European culture, and “this” refers to modern North American culture.
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The speaker’s emotional tone towards North American culture is evident as they end the poem by stating that, “They [animals] have the faces of no one”. (28-29) This emphasizes the speaker’s hostility towards the West by reinforcing that they have lost all ties to their spiritual self. In The Animals in that Country, Atwood uses imagery to show that the disconnection between humans and nature is unnatural. This is evident as she contrasts the death of animals in both a natural form and a manufactured form in her poem. The imagery of death in the natural world is supported by diction that provides elegance and sacredness to the death of an animal.
For example, the speaker states, “The fox run politely to the earth, huntsmen standing around him, fixed in their tapestry of manners,” (5-8) “the ceremonial cats,” (3) and “an elegant death” (11) to describe the importance of animals in that society. This contrasts with the second half, in which the speaker’s diction shifts to criticize the loss of a shamanistic connection in North American society. “Their eyes flash once in car headlights and are gone. Their deaths are not elegant” (24-26) signifies how the once sacred animals have little value in North American society and that individuals have become accustomed to a manufactured world rather than a spiritual one.
Atwood creates an antithesis in her poem as she contrasts the images of death in the two different worlds. By showing the elegance of death in the natural world and the ignorance in the civilized world, the speaker sends a clear message to their country that animals are sacred, but they have lost all respect for them. Atwood’s use of temporal and spatial aesthetics creates a contrast between past European culture and today’s manufactured society. Her use of spatial aesthetics when describing animals in “that country” causes them to become immortal through her use of static imagery.
Images such as “tapestry of manners,” (8) “, the heraldic brand” (12) and “thickened with the legend” (20) are used to describe the permanence of animals in a spiritual world even while Atwood presented images of their death, showing that animals were immortal because they were intermediaries to our spiritual selves. Furthermore, Atwood uses static diction to reinforce the immortality of animals as seen through the words “fixed,” (7) “, stamped” (18) and “resonant” (18), creating the effect that the animals are necessary in connecting to the spiritual world. In contrast to her spatial aesthetics, she employs temporal aesthetics to show that animals are unnecessary for today’s society.
This is evident as “their eyes flash once” (24-25), showing that they are not permanent in time but are mortal. This illustrates the disconnection of humans from the spiritual world as the animals are not of importance anymore. Margaret Atwood criticizes our disconnection through her narrative structure, imagery and diction. The poem is written from a shamanistic perspective as the speaker tries to convince the reader that this connection is important but missing in today’s civilized society. The animals are sacred in shamanism as they connect human beings to the spiritual world. In this poem, the speaker becomes the healer as they expose the flaws in western society and try to make human beings aware of their connection to animals to reconnect with their spiritual selves.
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