Essay Critique on “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

In the essay “Living like weasels”, Annie Dillard states that weasels and their life style is an example of good life people should follow. The essay under analysis is full of symbolic meanings and objects which help the author to convey and interpret the meaning of the work and underline its philosophical significance. Thesis The author uses different stylistic devices to create a message of the essay, but she does not express her ideas logically and clearly.

A-DILLIARD

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Using specific tone, Dillard tries to create an atmosphere of wildness and objectivity. From the very beginning, it seems that Dillard is an expert in this field speaking about deep philosophical problems and ideas. On the other hand, some concluding comments suggest that the author is uncertain about causes and consequences of such wildness. She writes: “I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal in particular, but I might learn something of mindlessness, of purity of living in the physical sense” (Dillard). The readers feel that it is not a voice of the author, but a voice of the person who feels uncertain and worried. The tone of the essay reflects personal peculiarities and worldview of the author.

The structure of the essay prevents the author to get the point well. On the one hand, the vivid description of a weasel shapes the atmosphere, but on the other hand, lengthily descriptions combined with philosophical questions and ideas prevent the audience to get the idea at once. For instance, ”A weasel is wild. Who knows what he thinks? He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose” (Dillard). The description is put at the very beginning of the story, so it is possible to say that the author wants to underline the significance of this symbol (a weasel) for entire work and plot development attracting attention of readers. On the other hand, it is difficult to grasp the idea the authors tries to convey. The format of the essay is not simple which prevents the reader to follow the complex argument which the author creates throughout the essay.

Such literary elements as language and diction create emotional tension through the choice of words and comparison. The language has more than a touch of the traditional fiction genre, and the exploration of language and persona helps to underline fertility of human existence. The role of diction is crucial because it helps to communicates with the audience through it. Sometimes, the choice of words and symbols is confusing and unclear: for instance, “If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders. But we don’t. We keep our skulls” (Dillard). Trying to impress the reader, Dillard uses vague images and symbols trying to create sophisticated atmosphere and emotional tension. The following sentence does not clearly express the author’s thoughts: “I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should’ (Dillard).  Probably, speaking as an expert, Dillard puts some emphatic word which increases the emotional impact of the essay: for instance, “a sweet and shocking time” (Dillard).

The vocabulary is uncomplicated, but the sentence structure is full of unnecessary elaborations. Using rhetoric questions, the author tries to support the plot structure and dramatic forms depicting that there is no eternal standard of what is innocence or good, because everything depends on circumstances. It seems that the author wants other people to understand the hardship of life through dramatic elements and symbols. “What does a weasel think about? He won’t say. His journal is tracks in clay, a spray of feathers, mouse blood and bone: uncollected, unconnected, loose-leaf, and blown” (Dillard). To some extent, the author persuades viewers to think, to analyze and to come to conclusion themselves. It metaphorically describes her secrets and thoughts, her soul and emotions.  The major component of the description is the focus on the fear and weakness of the individual. The plot development is closely connected with description of the weasel. It shapes the atmosphere of the story symbolizing fate and dissatisfaction of life.

Metaphors and simile is the main stylistic devices used by Dillard: for instance, “like a stubborn label”, “like blood pulsed into my gut”, “vows of poverty, chastity”.  She uses conceit and extended metaphor through the use of various kind of imagery. The use of words suggests that soul and body can communicate with one another as separate entities. The author being virtuous, argues that body and soul are two separate entities, an assumption which is explained in the end.  Throughout the essay, separation imagery is meant to create a cycle or perfection in love rather than pain and suffering. The theme of freedom is created within a meaning about to be lost, and whose continuity will no longer survive except in darkness. It is the integration of influences, of others, of situations, and of personal appearances that affirms an established identity. Dillard unveils that freedom cannot sustain a community and create such bonds of fellowship among the characters so as to justify sacrifices on the part of some for the interest of the whole society.

Taking into account the facts mentioned above, it is possible to conclude that the essay does not get its point across well. Through the symbol of weasel the author creates the eternal inconsistency between the aspirations and the occupations of a human being and his dreams. It is possible to say that toughness stems not from insensitivity but from the eternal rules which function as the sole defense against the overwhelming chaos of nature and wildness. In sum, the main idea is that a man should take a true journey into self, and the person who made these were heroes themselves in the true sense. The author remains very much entangled in her own emotions and moods, rather than moving beyond them to real self-understanding and to an awareness of her relationship to her society.

References

  1. Dillard, A. Living like weasels. n.d.  Available at http://www.wsu.edu/~hughesc/living_like_weasels.htm

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