Animal imagery in the novels of John Hawkes



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The animal images in the novels of John Hawkes are extensions of the personality traits of the characters and represent the middle ground between awareness and delusion, conscious action and subconscious force. They become the symbolic bridges between subjective and objective experience and, for the reader, the bridges between chaos and order. The animal images both reflect Hawkes's major theme of stagnation versus vitality, and represent it through their use in the reading experience. The primary shift in Hawkes's use of animal images occurs after the first five novels (Charivari, The Cannibal, The Beetle Leg, Tne Owl, and The Goose on the Grave) and incorporates a movement from pessimism and surrealism to the violent affirmations of the later novels (The Lime Twig. Second Skin, and The Blood Oranges) which witness an increasing dependence on the centralized consciousness of the narrator. The animal images become more sparingly used in the later novels and fulfill a more directly symbolic role than they did in the early novels where their primary purpose was to evoke a mood and to supply the reader with reference points for interpreting the fragmented narrative. The shift in Hawkes's use of animal images involves the evolution of animals from idea to form, from psychological projection to physical encounter. This movement is in direct support of the major structural process in Hawkes's fiction from repression to revelation. The nightmare animals of the later novels are approachable because they are outside the constricted bounds of imagination. Therefore the reliance on "real" animal encounters in the latter novels signifies the success in externalizing an idea. The early animals are shadows of the mind whereas the latter ones are creations of the mind. Both reveal something of the mental tapestries of their respective hosts but the creation is more positive than the shadow because it is literally and figuratively in the open.