Literature Comparison: “Dead Armadillos” & “Coming Across It”

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There are a host of overarching issues that are shared with Gail White's poem Dead Armadillos and Walt McDonald's poem Coming Across It. As this review attempts to show, it is almost clear that both poems explore the issues of human cruelty to animals (via encroachment and violence) and human fascination for unusual animals, as well as the theme of courage (heroism). Gail White talks of armadillos, personifying them as either smart or dumb; with the former seeking to self-preserve by staying on their own lanes, on the side of the road where they were born, while the latter crosses the asphalt road to their deaths in an attempt to find what lies on the other side. Curiosity leads to the death of the dumb armadillos that attempt to cross over the asphalt, meeting their deaths in the form of a ton of metal (cars that run on the asphalt). In the poem, Gail White, speaking to the cruelty of humankind towards animals, points out that nine times out of ten, armadillos are crushed on the road by humans driving on such roads. To further this narrative the poem notes that the dead armadillos are on the daily route that the poem takes, and that no one even cares about the dead crustaceans. Clearly, humans have taken up a great deal of the space that the armadillos used to roam.

Clearly depicting the theme of cruelty of mankind towards animals, Walt McDonald, in his poem “Coming Across It,” talks of the crowd shoving towards something that crouches. This paints the picture of humans cornering the helpless otter; as portrayed in the poet’s note that the “webbed feet of the mammal begged for space” from the surging crowd. The poem depicts humans as inconsiderate towards the plight of animals; as seen in the pondering of the crowd on how wild things get to the city, and on what should be done to dark alleys (where such animals as the otter live). It is clear than humanity has encroached on to the territory where the otter would otherwise live; a show of humankind’s inconsiderate actions toward animals. In the clearest indication of this cruelty, the poet openly remarks that if clubs were available, the otter would have been killed by the crowd.

Curiosity Toward Rare Animals

On the theme of curiosity towards animals that they do not see too often, “Dead Armadillos” goes on to point out that no one cares about the armadillos that litter asphalt surfaces because there are apparently too many armadillos. In a bid to reinforce the theme, the poem talks of the fact that even though there are clubs such as the Sierra Club and the Greenpeace initiative, they do not take note of the number of armadillos crushed on roads; there is also no club advocating for the saving of the crustaceans because the animals are in plenty supply and hence may not pass the threshold of care and protection by advocacy groups and societies.

Otters are rarely found in cities, as the poem “Coming Across It” seems to imply. This then serves to justify, to some extent, the curiosity with which the otter was treated in the alley with crowds surging towards it. Unlike in Gail White’s poem where the armadillos are many and hence arouse no curiosity (hence their ruthless crushing by vehicles), Walt McDonald’s poem mentions the strangeness of the otter; a fact that may have led to the saving of its life by calling for animal control to take it away.

Bravery (Heroism)

The poet, in apparent reference to the theme of heroism and bravery, makes mention of the armor that is on the armadillos bodies. While this reference may only have been intended to describe the bodies of the animals, the overarching concern of the poem adds it meaning, in the sense of bravery, as there is no one to save the armadillos. Essentially, the armadillos, referred by the poet as ‘small blind knights,’ have no knight in shining armor, or any knight at all for that matter, to save them from the crushing that they succumb to nine times out of ten.

Walt McDonald, in his poem talks of the wait for someone with a gun or a net, most probably an Animal Control official, to come and save the otter from the glaring public eyes. In that scenario, the person with a net or a gun is shown as the hero who comes to rescue the wild animal which is in distress in stranger territory, being stared at by a surging crowd of humans (who seem to be taking up all the space).

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Evidence from the two poems seems to suggest that each of them delves into the three themes of cruelty towards animals (as meted out through encroachment and violence), curiosity toward rare animals (such as the otter, but not the armadillo), and bravery (heroism as depicted by the mention of knights and persons with guns or nets). Both poems dig into these themes conclusively, in both implicit and explicit terms.

August 18, 2021

Life Literature

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