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Animal Dreams

Barbara Kingsolver


Main ideas Themes

As the novel indicated in varied ways, the value of fertility reaches far beyond a woman's womb. Grace became famous as a mining town. Mines are established where the earth itself is fertile and produces precious metals. Such a vision of the earth corresponds with the Native American characterization of Mother Earth, fertilized by Father Sun. However, in reaping the benefits of one type of fertility, the owners of the mine caused another type of infertility. Although it is located in arid Arizona, Grace sits in a fertile valley. The water and soil combine to allow great pecan and fruit orchards to thrive. Literally, the nuts and fruits born by trees carry their seeds and help to plant them in the ground where they can sprout new trees. Fruit and nut production is part of the trees' reproductive cycle. Metaphorically, the bearing of fruit represents fertility in a plant. The use of the same word, to bear, for fruit and for children underlines the connection between the two processes.

The Native Americans stand in the novel as the paragons of fertility, able to cultivate in the same valley over hundreds of years and even worshipping Koshari, the kachina or god of fertility, as a key deity. Industry, on the other hand, is regarded as the principal threat to fertility, in the form of Black Mountain Mine. The revolutionary regime in Nicaragua also stands as a symbol of fertility. Its primary representative in the novel is not a president but the Minister of Agriculture.

Family and Community

Since almost everyone in Grace is related, in Animal Dreams family and community are one in the same. This is one of the most important lessons that Codi learns. It is as she learns the history of her family that she grows to understand her place in her community. Having a place in a family and in a community are essential to feeling a sense of belonging and purpose in the world. Like most other elements of the novel, women stand at the center of families. This becomes clearest in Loyd's description of the matrilineal Pueblo and Navajo systems, where property is passed from mothers to daughters. Although she shows the ways in which Anglo culture encroaches on Native traditions, Kingsolver also uses Native American traditions as the model of much her utopic portrayal of Grace. The community of Grace is also named after a group of women, and the family lines are traced back to their women founders. Although some men, such as Doc Homer, are able to carry on a family, this is done with great difficulty. The difficulties of a father communicating with his daughters in the absence of a mother, allowed the Noline family to become separated from each other and from the rest of the community.