Animals Speaking in the Fiction of Jin and Malamud

By Prater, Matt | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Animals Speaking in the Fiction of Jin and Malamud


Prater, Matt, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


There are a number of similarities between the works of Ha Jin's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Bernard Malamud's works which suggest comparative study of their fiction, especially their short stories. Both are writers who, to apply to both Jerry A. Varsava's statement with regard to Jin that the "prose style [suggest] a constrained realism that derives largely from [their] early exposure to the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century ... but also from the profound challenge of writing in a borrowed idiom" (2). The idioms they inhabit may be different, of course: for Jin, it is his English, his second language, acquired during the process of his immigration from China to the United States and for Malamud, it is the Yiddish-inflected English of East European Jewish American immigrants of the generation preceding his own. Yet what holds true for both writers is that they are writing from a space that can be considered transcultural, if not always (in Malamud's case) transnational. Both writers have stories which deal with the underbellies of immigrant experience and the problematic scripts of US-Americanization, both have written about the experiences of specific ethnic communities in specific locations in New York City, and both have written extended animal fables which involve transformative relationships between humans and animals.

I am positing the above because it may seem obvious, almost inevitable, that a study of these writer's stories, especially in conjunction, would remain centered on humanistic issues. But the moral landscape of both writers and their focus on the oppressed and marginalized allows for readings which expand beyond human ethical considerations and take in the experiences of other groups, particularly non-human animals. As Jin writes, although a writer's political gestures "must be secondary, and he should be aware of the limits of his art as social struggle," there also exists a deep ethical responsibility for the writer, and therefore "There is no argument that the writer must take a moral stand and speak against oppression, prejudice, and injustice" (The Writer 29). In Critical Animal Studies (CAS), the oppression of animals is part of an interconnected web of oppressions which involves the devaluing of many othered groups, both non-human and human. This interconnectedness of subjugation is probably most clearly explained by activist and theorist Carol J. Adams, who concludes in her book Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals that "focusing attention on how oppressions interconnect creates the space for raising the issue of animals" (79). This is more than saying that animal oppression is a mirror for the ways humans mistreat each other: for the critical animal scholar, the beings and lives of animals contain value in their own rights. Nevertheless, one can read, as Susan Kappeler has, a distinct connection between "Speciesism, Racism [and] Nationalism." One of the metaphors Kappeler draws on in her work and one which fits particularly well with the following reading of Jin's and Malamud's fictions is that of an "International Zoo of Nations": "The idea of an international community of nations is akin to that of a zoo, with species separated into their respective territories--by they cages or reservations. It is a measure that has its appeal at a point where so many species (and communities) are indeed threatened by extinction, so that a cage in a zoo appears like the last protection from final aggression. Yet the zoo has been established and is being maintained precisely by those responsible for the extinction of species in the first place" (342; on animals in literature, see, e.g., DeMello; Malamud, Randy ).

Although Kappeler's main point is to describe how the neocolonial construct of the nation-state is an ethnically reductive and racially essentializing institution that upholds a male Eurocentric (i. …

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