Animals And Elements Of Symbolism English Literature Essay

In both texts, animals are employed for intentional literary effects. Serving as parallels to represent characters, animals contribute as elements of symbolism to convey meanings and ideas in a more impactful manner than if these ideas were explicitly mentioned. Moreover, the representation creates dramatic tension and suspense for audience as ominous events are foreshadowed. In light of the time period these two plays were written, Miss Julie in 1936 and The House of Bernarda Alba in 1888, audience’s traditional conservative mindset would probably have found direct references to certain ideas like sexual tensions in The House of Bernarda Alba and brutality in Miss Julie inappropriate, improper, and perhaps, offensive. Thus, not only have animals been used to convey such ideas, they have effectively further enhanced resonance of the play.

In Miss Julie, Julie’s dog, Diana, serves as an embodiment of Julie’s fate. Diana gets into an affair with a pug of lower standing, the “gatekeeper’s pug” [1] . Through the use of antitheses- purebred bitch and gatekeeper’s pug it foreshadows the future dualism- aristocrat and commoner where Julie transcends her social boundary by having a sexual affair with Jean. This parallelism follows that just as Diana faces severe consequences for her actions “that Miss Julie won’t allow” [2] , Julie’s sexual folly has dire consequences. Julie in demanding Christine prepares “some filthy muck” [3] for an immediate abortion conjures ideas of death, termination and annihilation engendering in readers an ominous, apocalyptic mood which foreshadows Julie’s termination of her own life. Coupled with the sensual engagement with the use of an olfactory imagery in “the [abortion potion] smell’s infernal” [4] , it has overtones of fiendish punishment creating an image of hell, invoking in audience the wrathful punishment for follies such as these, heightening the foreboding sinister horizon ahead.

After Julie’s sexual folly later on in the play, audiences are once again reminded “She, who all but had poor Diana shot for running after the gatekeeper’s pug!” [5] , provoking heightened apprehension of Julie’s punishment as has been prescribed to Diana. Miss Julie then “enters in travelling clothes with a small birdcage.” [6] By engaging audience with a visual image, it explicitly shows Julie is trapped just like the bird in a small birdcage. The bird’s confinement in this tiny cage is symbolic of Miss Julie being trapped by the consequences of her action for which there is no absolving. This parallels Julie’s anguish at recognizing her actions are unforgivable and would not be pardoned.

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Eventually, Jean snatches the bird from Julie, “takes it to the chopping block and picks up the kitchen axe” [7] . This act of snatching the bird from Julie is symbolic of Jean taking control of Julie and Julie losing control over her own being. The killing of the greenfinch foreshadows Julie’s eventual suicide. Like the Finch who dies at the hands of Jean, Julie’s eventual suicide death is dictated by Jean and is emblematic of patriarchal society. Preceding this, arising from her aristocracy, Julie asserts dominance over Jean who belongs to the working-class. Contrastingly, this very act of snatching the bird and Jean “bringing down the axe” signifies the reversal of roles on grounds of the more dominant sex regardless of economic position. [8] Jean’s act, true to social Darwinism, clearly show that it is the male that defines the female, it is he on whom she will hinge her existence into, her existence is largely defined by how he allows [or not] it to be. [9] Like the Greenfinch, Julie succumbs to her own ruin, analogous to female sensibility succumbing to the male, phallic, patriarchal order, reaffirming man’s control over human affairs. [10] 

Similarly, like the death of the greenfinch which cannot survive outside, and who is saved through Jean’s brutality, Julie’s death is an escape. Julie’s eventual suicide dictated by Jean is the fulfillment of the sado-masochistic ritual where the victim desires her fatal end, the consummation of her masochistic fantasy. [11] 

The concept of social Darwinism, resulting in the Naturalist movement from which Miss Julie arose, is also reflected in this significant act of Jean “bringing down the axe”, savagely hacking the head from Julie’s twittering greenfinch. [12] Like Darwinian ape-man, this act of masculinity at its basest, leads to Jean being victorious by obeying his carnal instincts. [13] Given that Julie’s continued presence is a threat to his security, Jean has to urgently dispose of her. [14] As such, this symbolic act of brutality is evident of his robust instinct for survival which results in the survival of the fittest with the eventual removal of Julie as an impediment.

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In essence, the Greenfinch effectively conveys ideas of social and gender Darwinism exemplified in the act which could not be replicated on Julie herself given the extent of the brutality and gore which embodies for Stindberg his fantasy of the strong male sadist with robust instinct for survival. [15] 

Similarly, in The House of Bernarda Alba, animals are used to represent characters. The stallion, representative of Pepe establishes the sexual tensions from which the play develops and like Diana in Miss Julie foreshadows the culmination of the play in a tragic ending. The idea of being “locked in” [16] parallels Pepe’s confinement and emphasizes how greatly restrained he is. As much as the stallion is trying to break free from his physical confinement, Pepe wishes to relieve his sexual tensions which have been suppressed. This is further evident in “He [stallion] must be hot”. [17] While the “heat” could be associated with the physical discomfort, unease that summer brings, the “heat” figuratively represents heightened sexual desires. As summer is the time of the year characterized by fertility, lushness and productivity, the recurring idea of summer heat is associated with sexual fertility, fruitfulness and conjures ideas of intense repressed sexual desires resulting in uneasiness. Thus, the notion of Pepe’s repressed instinct desperately seeking to break out is more powerfully conveyed than if explicitly presented through Pepe’s onstage character which would be inappropriate and is an ominous pointer to the sexual encounter between Pepe & Adela. [18] In my opinion, although Pepe is not physically locked up like the stallion, perhaps, Lorca was suggesting a figurative stable, that of Bernarda’s tight control over Adela which presents an impediment to fulfilling his desires.

The imminent sexual encounter is effectively foreshadowed when Bernarda orders “Let him [stallion] roll out in the straw.” [19] With the establishment of the stallion representing Pepe, the releasing of the suppressed stallion marks Pepe’s liberalization to seek and fulfill his sexual desires which he eventually does. However, the intention of Bernarda- “Lock the mares in the stable but let him loose, before he brings the walls on top of us” [20] , is ironic for what is true of the stallion will prove to be true of Pepe el Romano who will eventually bring down the walls upon the entire household causing grief, anguish, disorder and eventually Adela’s suicide. [21] This re-establishes the confinement of Bernarda’s daughters represented by the locking of the mares and is reflective of the acceptance of the sexual excesses of men, for whom the experience of pre- and post-marital sex was merely a sign of their manliness or “machismo”. [22] Through this, Lorca includes Naturalist elements rooted in tradition, where such attitudes deny the possibility of moving towards sexual equality. [23] 

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Another aspect of animals used in The House of Bernarda Alba serves to emphasize the unnatural order of things in Bernarda’s household which foreshadows the tragic ending. Through the explicit onstage presence of Maria Josefa appearing with a lamb in her arms, [24] coupled with the biblical allusions to Bentlehem and the birth of Christ in her song, it epitomizes the bond of love, the unity between mother and child. This maternal affection is accentuated with the pastoral line “Little lamb, my baby”. [25] Contrastingly, Bernarda is referred to as “leopard face” [26] with connotations of fierce, predatory, flesh-eating, and carnivorous. This diametrically contrasting bond of love between mother and child where Maria Josefa sees in her own daughter only the savageries of wild animals [27] , indicate the subverted, unnatural order where Bernarda controls not only her daughters, but her own mother. Through this, it foreshadows the results of the unnatural order of things where Maria Josefa together with the little lamb symbolic of her grandchildren who are stifled, go to the sea shore, to flowers at Bethlehem’s gates. [28] Here, the evocation of the seashore suggests a longing for freedom and escape. [29] Given the context which the play was written, 1930, a time marked by growing Fascist oppression, Lorca is possibly satirizing the Fascist government represented by Bernarda, exposing the ills of the Spain of his time. [30] 

In conclusion, animals have been adopted by both Strindberg and Lorca to parallel characters and foreshadow the imminent future. While both have used animals to parallel characters and convey ideas dramatically which would otherwise be inappropriate with explicit representation on mortals, Strindberg employed animals to parallel character’s situations, Diana and Greenfinch as embodiment of Julie’s fate while Lorca extends the use of animals to parallel character’s inner feelings of repression as well.

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