In short fiction that presents an animal in the theme, it very specifically uses the animal as a device to convey a correlation between human and animal. Techniques used to make this correlation are comparative language, supposing human knowledge within the animal and vice versa, and anthropomorphizing the animal. E.J. Pratt??™s poem ???The Shark,??? Margaret Laurence??™s ???The Mask of the Bear,??? and Guy Vanderhaeghe??™s ??? Dancing Bear,??? employ these techniques to place the reader in the mind of the animal as well as convince the reader that the animal exists both as an individual spiritual being and within its human counterpart.
E.J. Pratt??™s poem ???The Shark,??? is, on the surface, about the narrator observing a shark in a harbour. It could be said that this poem is a characterization of beasts of prey and, because the fish is placed in a human situation (in the harbour as opposed to the open ocean); it is a comparative analogy to human nature. The first two lines, ???He seemed to know the harbour,
So leisurely he swam;???employ both the imposition of human knowledge and human attribute on the animal. To know something implies cognition, and the idea of an animal swimming leisurely says that an animal could have leisure. This assumes that the shark??™s consciousness is akin to human consciousness on some level (and thus makes the human to shark comparison). The author continues his poem by describing the shark compared to manmade industrial materials, ???His fin, Like a piece of sheet iron,??? to put the foreign fish body into human terms.
Throughout the poem the author refers to the shark as ???he,??? yet the reader is under the assumption that the author has no biological understanding of the fish. This genderisation of the shark allows the reader to accept the shark as a person, or at least a comparison to people.
Margaret Laurence??™s short story ???The Mask of the Bear,??? uses imagery of the bear to describe and qualify the character Grandfather Connor. The story focuses on the perception the young narrator Vanessa has of her family, particularly her grandfather. Grandfather Connor is given qualities of a bear, like the opposite of anthropomorphasising. Vanessa thinks of him as ???The Great Bear??? ( pg76) because ???…he would stalk around the brick house as though it were a cage…??? ( pg76) and he would take to the basement that was his ???cave??? (pg77). Grandfather Connor is infused with the spirit of the bear. He is gruff and surly and cloaks his body in the pelt of a bear. Laurence doesn??™t spend much time in the story making comparisons between Connor and the bear, but what she does do is sets the quality of the ???bear??? in the readers mind by opening the story with a description of Connor??™s bear coat:
So shaggy and coarse-furred was this coat, so unevenly coloured in patches ranging from amber to near black, and so vile-smelling when it had become wet with snow, that it seemed to have belonged when it was alive to some lonely and giant Kodiak crankily roaming a high frozen plateau, or an ancient grizzly scarred with battles in the sinister forests of the north. (Laurence, 1995, pg76)
This is the readers first impression of the bear coat that Grandfather Connor wears, and thus the first impression of Connor himself.
Guy Vanderhaeghe??™s short story ???Dancing Bear,??? uses the recollection of the main character??™s experience with bears, compared with his current experience to express ideas of capture, innocence, rebellion, vulnerability and humanity. The idea of the bear is introduced to the reader through the main character Dieter. Dieter is an aged man coping with senility, who grasps at memories to understand his current situation. After abuses and indignities inflicted on him by his caretaker, Dieter slips into a boyhood memory of his father skinning a bear. In this memory the bear was once ???A killer, a marauder who had left two sows tangles in their guts with single blows from his needle-sharp claws,???( pg369) but was reduced to human terms as his father guts it. As his father skins it, the bear changes, until ???stripped of its rich, glossy fur, naked, it is no bear. Two arms, two legs, a raw pink skin. A man.??? (pg370). The author uses a direct comparison of bear to man to punctuate dieter??™s own loss of potency. Like the bear Dieter has been captured and stripped and reduced.
In Dieter??™s second recollection of a bear we are transported again to a boyhood memory of ???Rumania before his family emigrated.??? pg373). In this memory Dieter recalls a dancing bear in the market square. The bear is brought to the square by a ring in his nose, enforcing the image of domination. When the ring is unclasped the bear is expected to perform, and does for a short period, until he falls and the performance ends. After the crowd who had watched the performance disperses, the bear ???got to his feet and began, once again, to dance. He mocked them…And he grinned hugely, sardonically.???( pg374). Dieter witnessed the bear??™s trainer inflict abuse upon abuse toward the bear for this ???rebellion.??? The young Dieter expects the bear to strike and when this doesn??™t happen he feels shame; he wants to cry out ???That the bear is a man in masquerade.??? The author anthropomorphisises the bear to tighten the correlation between Dieter??™s and the bear??™s situation. This segment also foreshadows the events of Dieters own rebellion to his caretaker and his own decline.
Throughout this story the reader is left with the impression that Dieter is at the same time a man and an animal. The author uses the same language in his description of Dieter as he does the bear. The caretakers both name their wards the same way: Dieter is described as ???old bastard??? (pg368) and the bear is described as ???hairy bastard??? (pg374). Dieter ???…swiped at the spittle on his chin…??? (pg369) while ???a long, glittering thread of saliva fell from his (the bears) panting mouth…??? ( pg374). On pg 371, Dieter steals a piece of bacon from his caretaker, much like the bear of the first memory killing the pigs. Overall the reader is left with the sensation that the injustices inflicted on the bears are a direct comparison to the injustices inflicted upon Dieter.
Pratt, Laurence and Vanderhaeghe all play with the idea of anthropomorphasism (or reverse anthropomorphasism) to better qualify their characters. By bringing the spirit of the human to animal and animal to human, the reader is better able to carve out the character??™s identity (???The Mask of the Bear??? and ???The Dancing Bear???) or hash out the point of the reading (???the Shark???).