Codi wants desperately to fit in somewhere and to find a meaning for her life. Her struggle is common to young people of her generation, who often leave the rural town they grow up in for the opportunities offered by larger cities, but must contend with how leaving affects their sense of belonging. Codi's struggle also mirrors Doc Homer's and that of anyone born into a disfavored, or black sheep, family. As a woman, Codi repeatedly looks to men to give her a sense of belonging. However, Kingsolver's feminism becomes obvious as Codi repeatedly demonstrates that these men cannot provide her with a purpose in life. It is not until Codi understands her own relationship to her community, and finds a profession that she enjoys on her own, that she can build on that sense of belonging and purpose with Loyd.
Codi's past is shrouded in a number of mysteries, all of which are linked to childbirth. Her mother died from complications with her pregnancy. In high school Codi accidentally became pregnant, and then out of failure or an inability to care for her own body, she lost the child. Codi's failure to become a doctor hinges on her poor ability to assist a difficult delivery during her residency. Pregnancy for Codi is linked not to the creation, but to the destruction of life. Fertility relates not only to the capacity to bear children, but also to the ability to carry forward a family history. Codi has a great deal of difficulty in connection with past as well as future generations. Although she comes home to Grace to assist her father, she does not move into his home. While as a child Codi tried to establish herself as being connected to older generations by calling a woman abuelita (grandmother), that very same woman insisted on Codi's separation from any family history, with the designation "orphan."
Codi is the modern prodigal child who leaves home, goes through a great number of professions in a great number of cities, and returns home to care for her dying father and to learn how to apply her knowledge. In returning to her home town, Codi must face her past, and as she recovers the memory of her childhood she finds that she has always belonged in Grace and that she is an integral part of the community not only because she comes from there, but also because she has a great deal to offer it in the present. Codi's journey into the past to create a future mirrors the path of her town.
Doc Homer conducts his entire life as if it were a medical experiment. Medical metaphors abound in the chapters where the narrator is aligned with his perspective. He always attempts to be objective and maintain himself at a distance from his surroundings.
Although Doc Homer presents himself to the other characters as intentionally and happily separate from those around him, he feels a great deal of sadness at the extension of this distance to his relationship with his daughters. His chapters focus primarily on past events, suggesting that he is attempting to remedy some wrong or to find a clue to help him understand his life. Similarly, in his photographic hobby he tries endlessly to recreate a scene from his memory out of other images.
Doc Homer struggles throughout the story with Alzheimer's disease, which affects his memory as well as his capacity to communicate. In this way, the disease mimics his life by accentuating peculiarities that Doc Homer already showed even in perfect health. Ironically, as Doc's disease develops, Codi begins to press him to communicate, and he finally becomes willing to do so, though is often prevented by the disease. Similarly, Doc Homer had tried to erase certain elements of his past by changing his name and pretending to forget that his family came from the Gracela valley. Again, just as Codi begins to ask him direct questions about these facts, the Alzheimer's disease affects his memory so that he truly experiences gaps where he formerly created his own. Doc Homer has always simply changed the subject when a subject arose that he did not want to discuss. Now when Codi asks him about his last name, he cannot remember who she is and attempts to keep his hold on reality by talking about the one thing he is able to remember. To Codi, this method of coping with the disease looks exactly like his lifelong method of coping with unwanted questions. She is unable to distinguish either his change in attitude about communicating with her or the signs of his disease.
Doc Homer shows many signs of being completely disconnected from his community. However, he is the town doctor. He is well known to the townspeople and is surreptitiously cared for by the older women. In addition, his article on its genetics demonstrates a deep interest in the community. While Doc Homer's relationship to those around him may take place in the form of doctor-patient relations and scientific research, the connection to the community is nonetheless still present.
Loyd serves as the vehicle through which Animal Dreams addresses the concerns and the practices of Native American culture. In many ways Loyd and Native American culture are idealized. However, as Codi comments that Loyd's view of Native American culture is idealized, she reminds us of this danger. Nonetheless, Loyd's only flaws, his wild youth, his cockfighting, move quickly into his past.
Loyd is a fertile character, in large part connected to his status as a Native American. Thanks to his understanding of Native American cosmology and to his being raised on the reservation, Loyd has a profound understanding of how to carefully cultivate the fertile land. The land, as it is often called mother earth, is a metaphor for the mother. People who knows how to cultivate the earth, then, metaphorically know how to bear and raise children. In his relationship with Codi, Loyd often takes the role traditionally assigned to the woman, expressing a desire to settle down and have children while Codi seems restless. Loyd agrees to wait patiently until Codi is ready, and he follows rather than leads in sexual advances, afraid that he is loved only for his body. All of these qualities, however, only serve to make Loyd an even more perfect man. Any androgynous qualities he may have only reaffirm his ideal masculinity.
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