Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation explores how animals are largely erased from literary education and curricular practice and how they could be actively incorporated into literary pedagogy. Animal stories, including those focused on farmed animals, are prominently represented in children’s education. Yet the animals in these stories are typically anthropomorphized in ways that help guide children toward humanist readings and away from questions surrounding the animals, especially any critical issues pertaining to animal exploitation and/or harm.
Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web are two canonical educational texts that represent not only farmed animals, but also quite explicitly, the manifestations of physical and psychological torment inflicted upon them by humans. Yet the animals are filtered through the anthropomorphic prism to adhere to the hierarchal anthropocentric imperative that sees value in animals only as resources to reproduce humanist value. Animals are endemically erased and replaced through a process of humanist allegorical substitution that I call the anthropo-allegorical frame.
Accordingly, this dissertation examines the ethical and ontological limits of humanistic and anthropocentric literary education, particularly in the context of anthropogenic environmental emergencies that threaten the existence of innumerable animal species, including our own. Moreover, this project aims to promote a reconceptualization of humanist literary education that challenges the entrenched anthropocentric educational practices by reorienting our relations to animals in ways that respect their subjectivity, agency, and right to life, and by cultivating inter- and intraspecies empathy.
Summary for Lay Audience
This project is dedicated to revaluating the place of animals in literary education. Children are encouraged to read animal stories that are, in actuality, human stories posing as animal stories. Young children are often engaged with animals and animal stories offer a convenient conduit to embed humancentric lessons and messages. As they mature, children are guided to reading more overtly human focused books while animal stories are seen as vestiges of early childhood. Two key and enduring books that guide children along this trajectory are E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Charlotte’s Web has long been presented as a primary level text that introduces children to ideas of maturation and mortality using animals as vehicles for these deeper human concerns. Similarly, Animal Farm has been presented as a text that introduces intermediate and high school age students to political and historical themes by using the surface animal story purely as an allegory for the Russian Revolution. As such, children and young adults are instructed that animals and their stories are only valuable insofar as they may be exploited to serve human interests. Many literary and educational scholars have observed this interpretive pattern that erases animals from stories that would seem to be representing them. It is also particularly ironic that both authors indicated that it was the oppression and exploitation of actual animals that inspired their classic novels and yet this dimension is only rarely acknowledged by scholars and educators.
Accordingly, my project seeks to restore the animal dimension of these classic texts and to teach them beyond the exclusively humanist frame and to consider the animal perspectives represented therein. In doing so, I seek to promote literary educational possibilities that encourage children and young adults to become more attune to animal experience and to promote deeper concern for how animals are affected by our regard, or disregard for their well being.
Drew, John, "Animalizing the Canon: Toward Multispecies Subjectivities and Ethical Engagement in English Literary Education" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8365.