Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

"Menagerie, A Child’s Fable"

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For all those teachers of introductory literature courses out there, I wanted to throw out some praise for “Menagerie, A Child’s Fable.” Don’t be misled by the title or the whole talking animals thing — it’s not a child’s fable by any stretch of the imagination. It’s one of the few allegories I’ve taught where the students actually enjoy talking about the allegory. (Usually talking about allegory just makes students hate the story, and me.)

I like to do a group exercise with this story where the students write their own constitution for the Pet Shoppe — “Your job is to create a set of rules that will keep the animals from destroying each other.” They get a kick out of the assignment, and so do I. Today I had some students half-seriously considering a constitutional fishocracy, or possibly a fishtatorship, before settling in with rule-by-parrot.

Today I was especially pleased with the story, as it led my second class got into a really interesting discussion about religion. Both classes touched on the whole idea that the cruel, drunk, and probably dead Pet Shoppe owner, Mr. Tilford, represents God, but the second class really ran with it. Did bad things happen in the Pet Shoppe because the animals lost their faith that Mr. Tilford would return? What does that say about our society’s increasing secularization? And how does any of that square with the reality of Mr. Tilford’s cruelty? The dude puts kittens in blenders. How could the animals not be better off without him?

I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned this story before. It practically teaches itself.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 23, 2005 at 11:00 pm

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