Bless the Beasts and Children
The Bedwetters diligently lift and stack hay in preparation for the transport of the buffalo. Having packed everything into the truck, the boys realize that Lally two has left behind his cherished pillow. However, he reassures them he no longer needs it, and wishes to leave it there. Teft has planned to hotwire this truck as well, but suddenly realizes it has not even occurred to him to check for the keys. Indeed, the driver has left the keys in the car, and although the truck fails to start on the first try, the engine starts on the second try. As the boys feed hay to the buffalo from the back of the truck, and Teft drives very slowly in first gear, the animals and the boys begin to engage in a mutual communication, trust, and understanding.
The boys muse on the time passed since their departure from Box Canyon Boys Camp. Although it has been less than a full day, it seems as if years have elapsed. Contemplating the significance of what they have done for the buffalo, they imagine hippies spotting them while driving. Lally two notes that if little kids have the opportunity to see the buffalo, "It'll be better for them than TV."
Because they have been discouraged from making noise during most of their mission, the boys, additionally energized by their success, chat about a variety of topics. Counting the buffalo, they soon realize that more have joined the herd, including two calves. It occurs to the boys to turn on their radios, but as soon as they blare out, Cotton forces them to turn them off again, citing the shooters as a threat. Lally two and others express fear about what will happen to the group, and Cotton claims that anyone capable of such a slaughter of the buffalo would surely also be capable of treating the Bedwetters with cruelty. Suddenly Teft notices a fence ahead, and the group moans and groans about yet another barrier to the completion of their task.
Lally two, swelling with newfound confidence after his self-initiated catwalk crawl, leaves his pillow behind when the boys pile into the truck to lure the buffaloes out toward the open fields. Not only has he proven himself capable of initiative and bravery, he has also rejected the symbol of his fears and dependencies by giving up the pillow that had served a role similar to that of a security blanket. When the group had thrown their radios, headgear, and flashlights at the buffalo to force them out of their pens, the group had sacrificed the sense of comfort these items had offered in exchange for the gratification of doing the right deed. Lally two, however, had a particularly powerful need for a sense of security. His separation from his pillow, therefore, represents a true transformation and arguably wins him the distinction of the most dynamic character in the novel.
At the end of Chapter 16, Swarthout comments on the boys' communication with the buffaloes as they lead them out to the open fields beyond the preserve. After the boys and the buffaloes have spent a certain amount of time with one another, both the boys and the animals grow more comfortable and less afraid. Swarthout writes, "They smelled each other. And suddenly boys of fifteen, fourteen, and twelve were children once more. The breath of innocent animals blessed them."
Swarthout believes in the power of the buffaloes to bring peace and harmony to those who treat them with kindness. He also uses this communion between man and beast to draw similarities between the two. Using scent, which animals instinctually employ to determine the absence or presence of danger, the boys become at ease with the animals and experience a certain entirely novel tenderness and peace, which they have never before experienced with other human beings. Swarthout believes in the power of nature in creating this timeless and innocent connection. He also writes, "Oddball ideas bumbled through the alleys of their heads. Who, it occurred to them to wonder, was herding who? Which were the shepherds, and which the sheep?" This implies that Swarthout believes in a kind of equality between boy and buffalo, which plays a central role in his advocacy of animal rights.
Although Teft's story about his cousin's piranha initially seems pointless, the reader soon discovers the underlying lesson. Teft emphasizes the necessity to finish what you start. The Bedwetters' journey provides an example of perseverance in the face of an incredibly difficult mission. Provided with many opportunities to become disheartened and return to the camp before they liberate the buffaloes from their fatal end, the boys have learn one of the most important lessons in life. Although they sacrifice quite a bit in the course of their adventure, they extract meaning from the experience as a result.
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