The Importance of Ecology
Two of the main characters in Animal Dreams have pursued studies very similar to those of Kingsolver, involving biology, agriculture, and ecology. By connecting ecology to biology and to agriculture, Kingsolver emphasizes that it is not only a politically but also a scientifically and an economically sound concern.
Two main plots drive the novel: Codi's search for a sense of purpose and belonging, and the Stitch and Bitch club's search for a way to save Grace from destruction. The destruction threatening Grace is either the pollution or the complete destruction of the river, which is their only water source. The plot of the story, therefore is intimately intertwined with the theme of ecology. As the reader is caught up in the plight of the characters, he or she must also become involved in the concern over the ecology of the region.
In a rural and agricultural setting, ecological concerns come easily to the forefront. The people of Grace depend on the land to live. The effects of river pollution are devastatingly visible in the fruit dropping, un-ripened, from the branches. Through Codi's role as a biology teacher, Kingsolver is also able to present a slightly more complicated biological account of ecology. In addition, through Hallie's role in Nicaragua, the global dimensions of ecology are underlined.
The Value of Fertility
By connecting fertility to her other political concerns, Kingsolver both reduces some of the polemical elements of Animal Dreams and draws all readers toward agreement with her point of view. An attention to fertility in all of its myriad forms allows Kingsolver to direct a more general interest in fertility to questions of ecology and gender relations.
Most literally, fertility is the capacity to bear children. Thus fertility is signaled as a key theme when the novel opens with an emphasis on Codi's double loss of motherhood. Childbearing is essential for the regeneration of a community and for the continuity of its past into the future. The issue of fertility is not however simply a medical capacity to produce offspring. In order to be fertile, one must also know how to preserve life. Fertility can therefore be the effect of raising children but not bearing them, or of raising not children but animals. Where a community or a family is threatened with extinction, fertility becomes a key concern.
Although women bear the most visible signs of fertility and are often the most involved in its preservation, men are also essential to the process. Most of the activity surrounding childbearing and agriculture in the novel is conducted by women. In each case, however, one key man contributes to the process.