“Sensible Beasts”

I know that there has been some talk on what the pigs and the well are metaphors for in this  novel, and while reading the second assigned part for class, it starts with a section that gives one possible answer for why the pigs are in this novel and what purpose they serve to its narrative.

Pigs are smart, and there is a sound that pigs being killed emit and I’ve got the evil thyme to that particular complaint in my head. Now I live in this little house and do not go to the big house any longer and do not hear it when they put the chisel to their pigs, or smell it when they cut out the chitterlings and scrub the insides, or feel it when they push the pork pieces into the salt. There’s some will do backflips about a bacon breakfast, but I’ve still got teeth enough to get that product stuck between. I’ve still got a tongue to taste the pork blood and eyes to see the red come bubbling up out of the fresh meat when it’s pressed (Hunt 52)

This is the beginning of Ginny’s description of the terrible violence that Linus Lancaster inflicts upon his slaves. Because of this, it is easy to see how Hunt could be working at a comparison between the pigs and Linus Lancaster’s slaves. Throughout the first hundred pages of the book, we do not ever see – with the exception of the death of Alcofibras – the wrath of Linus Lancaster upon his slaves. This is due primarily to the fact that we, as readers, are only privy to Ginny’s perspective of life on Linus Lancaster’s property. However, when Ginny tells us that Linus Lancaster is going “down the hall” for his nightly “visits” to Zinnia and Cleome, there is hardly any doubt of what Hunt is referring to by phrasing it in this way. However, before all of the violence occurs in 1861 on Linus Lancaster’s property, Ginny gives a detailed description of how pigs are slaughtered and how this being done on Lucius Wilson’s property (in presumably 1911) gives her a continuation of these “running dreams.” I believe this is done to give the reader an idea of what exactly goes on on the following pages and how this has actually affected Ginny (possibly).

When I say that Hunt uses the pigs as a comparison to the slaves, I do not mean just that he uses them as a metaphor for the slaves, but as an actual comparison where the slaves and pigs are contrasted. This contrast is prevalent in Linus Lancaster’s differing views on his pigs and his slaves. For his pigs, he would be willing to give them the finest apples whereas he thinks it silly to suggest giving his slaves candy (Hunt 42). Later on in the book we find out that Linus Lancaster frees his pigs because, as he says, “I needed to see them let loose and people the earth” (Hunt 60) – a stark contrast to the behavior he has for his slaves. This scene evolves into another that creates a larger contrast between the slaves and the pigs, when Linus Lancaster tells Ginny that she is “mother” to his land and those who live on it. This scene ends the chapter with three ominous sentences: “That I was the mother to them. Who would do worse than slap in the coming days. God help us all” (Hunt 62). But, when Ginny says “God help us all,” does she truly mean them all – including Zinnia, Cleome, Alcofibras, and Ulysses – or does she really mean “God help me”?

The pig reference continues when Ginny is brought to breakfast by Zinnia and Cleome one morning to discover that her husband has been killed by a pig sticker to the back of the head. This scene sets off a chain of events that makes the reader witness the violence of slavery, whose role is shifted from Zinnia and Cleome to Ginny, making it fitting that it would be the death of Linus Lancaster by a pig sticker to change the narrative of the book to one of witnessed, experienced slavery. However, this puts my theory of Ginny’s explanation of why she dreads the sounds of dying pigs as Scary Sue on Lucious WIlson’s land at risk and makes the answer to my question of the line “God help us all” lean in favor of its rewrite as “God help me.”

However, I continue to read the novel in this way – that the pigs are used as a comparison to the slaves – because Laird Hunt, as has been mentioned by others, has created such a layered text that its subjects and ideas are written with such convolutedness that for any one to be given representational qualities and to have those qualities taken away will equally effect the novel and further disprove or affirm what its narrative is attempting to say. There is no set path that this text is trying to lead its reader on, rather, it is a collection of pathways, dead ends, and side trails all aimed in a general direction.

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