Xiyun Yang, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003
While writers like Lawrence and Chatwin blur the demarcation between fiction and nonfiction, Annie Dillard's
Dillard frames the book with the image of an old tom cat.
I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. . . . And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses . . . .I never knew. I never knew as I washed, and the blood streaked, faded, and finally disappeared, whether I'd purified myself or ruined the blood sign of the Passover.
I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who sprang through the open window by my bed and pummeled my chest, barely sheathing his claws. I've been bloodied and mauled, wrung, dazzled, drawn. I taste salt on my lips in the early morning; I surprise my eyes in the mirror and they are ashes, or fiery sprouts, and I gape appalled, or full of breath. The planet whirls alone and dreaming. Power broods, spins, and lurches down. The planet and the power meet with a shock. They fuse and tumble, lightning, ground fire; they part, mute, submitting, and touch again with hiss and cry. The tree with the lights in it buzzes into flame and the cast-rock mountains ring.
The opening section introduces the reader to the mystery and ambiguity of nature, and it is written in a lulling, colloquial tone. The concluding passage draws the image of the cat to a grander purpose, reflecting upon Dillard's spiritual battle worn wariness. The passage is composed with fierceness and intensity, full of short, staccato verbs, "bloodied and mauled, wrung, dazzled, drawn . . . broods, spins and lurches down." The rhythm of the sentences is syncopated and asymmetrical, the consonants recurring in groups of twos and threes. How are these two different narrations of the same subject appropriate to their relative function (the opening and closing of this book)? Why has Dillard chosen to end her book this way?
Dillard draws together the most important images of the book (the tree with the lights in it, the water bug and frog) to conclude the book. Does this conclusion seem forced or do the images naturally flow together?
Last modified 3 December 2006