Pets and non-human representations in narratives of immigration

I think that pets in the narratives of immigration are extremely meaningful because they allow the immigrant character to think about his/her human condition. Being outside the hegemonic culture is also being outside what’s been defined as “normal”. I consider that pets and non-human beings are a strategy for representing the immigrant as an in-between condition that does not feet completely into the human category. Consequently, pets in immigrant narratives allow the reader to place the question about what’s missing in the immigrant performance in order to be perceived as a human being by the hegemonic culture. For example, dogs in The good Ana don’t have a proper house, they are always moving to provisional places, as the protagonist does. For this text, being a human is a synonym of having a home, a private place where you can live, love and die according to your own ethical system. Another example is the cat in And China has hands. The protagonist makes a comparison between his cat and Pear Chang trying to know who is more intelligent. For this text, being human is fitting into a notion of what’s “pure” in Chinese culture.

In The arrival, there is a defense of a speechless empathy that is linked with the idea of a pet. The protagonist meets immigrants that narrate their story even though they don’t share the same language. Affection and empathy transcended the boundaries of language. I think this is a way of arguing that, even though a speechless being is “less human” than somebody who is able to speak a language, it does not interfere with the capacity of recognizing and empathizing with the immigrant-other.

I think that this idea is extremely meaningful in a book that also represents displacement as a consequence of human extermination. The giants with big vacuums, the corps in the soldier’s history, even the act of separating “damaged” pieces at the factory, are showing that a fixed notion of what’s human can be used to eliminate anyone that does not feet the category. This is the logic that supports national discourses based on racial differences that lead to genocides. If this is not a man (paraphrasing Primo Levi’s writings about the Holocaust) then it doesn’t belong to public space and civic rights. The arrival introduces non-human figures and proposes the immigrant as an in-between stage in order to negotiate the limits of what’s human and what’s not. The practice of empathy goes beyond the limits of the human because of the representation of the pets and beyond the limits language. In this sense, this book can be read as a defense of the immigrant’s role in a new society.

The theme of Order in ‘The Good Anna’

While reading Stein’s piece, I kept a red pen close to my paper to mark up the text, and kept finding myself writing down the word ‘order’. After finishing the short story, I realize that the presence of ‘order’ had more than one dimension. Stein uses a certain order to introduce her plot line and her characters; she begins by giving life to Anna and Miss Mathilda’s relationship, and only then retraces the past employers and the different steps that Anna to her beloved Mathilda. This shifting between time periods reminds me slightly of the migrant experience, moving temporarily from place to place, and I wonder if Stein used this literary technique consciously to mimic the life of her characters. Furthermore, Stein characterizes Anna in a way that focuses on Anna’s need for cleanliness, morality, and control over every situation. In countless different scenes, Anna is portrayed as taking leadership of the household, taking joy in providing for others, scolding bad behavior, and establishing order in an otherwise un-orderly environment. For example, one of the first introduction to Anna’s personality reads, “Anna has always a firm old world sense of what was the right way for a girl to do… girl was a girl and should act always like a girl, both as to giving all respect and as to what she had to eat” (15). When Anna feels as if she had acted poorly or when she herself in a precarious situation, Anna quickly takes measures to regain this order, and doesn’t feel content until she has done so. For example, when Anna visits the medium for advice, she soon after feels the guilt for acting against the Church and “Anna’s temper grew irritable and her ways uncertain and distraught. Everybody suffered and her glasses broke” (40). Anna’s need for order speaks to a larger message about the immigrant experience; though immigrants lacked complete control over their social, economic, and political status, perhaps they felt the need to assert their control in any other situation they could personally shape.