Animal Dreams - Releasing the Past

In literature a specific inanimate object will often serve a purpose to the plot, frequently becoming a symbol related to the actions of a character. This is true in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Animal Dreams, in which the main character, Codi, frequently takes note of a black and red afghan which she and her sister had owned as children. This afghan initially serves as a comfort blanket for the two in their childhood, but upon her return to her hometown the blanket comes to symbolize Codi’s desire to avoid commitments, clinging to the flightiness of her childhood until at last she is able to bury the blanket, symbolizing her decision to move on and to commit herself to her life.

upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_en_9_92_animaldreams.jpg The afghan’s first purpose in the novel is that of a comfort blanket – an object which many children have to get them through hard times. The blanket is first seen in a flashback, in which Codi and her sister Hallie “sit hugging each other… wrapped in the black-and-red crocheted afghan” after failing to rescue a family of coyote pups from drowning (p 21). At this point the blanket seems to symbolize the unity of the two sisters, as the curl up together inside the blanket, with Codi later describing it as “our totem against disaster” (p 72). Thus at this point in the novel the afghan is the quintessential child’s safety blanket, while also symbolizing the close relation ship which the two sisters had had for all their lives. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Codi wants to retain aspects of her childhood, as symbolized by the afghan.

As Codi returns to her hometown she is reluctant to linger, attempting to avoid making any commitments, and the afghan comes to symbolize her desire to cling to her childhood rather than to accept her present life. Upon returning to her father’s house in her hometown, Codi sees the afghan, remembering it clearly from her childhood. The blanket then appears when Codi is talking to Loyd – her boyfriend of sorts – about the future of their relationship and its meaning. Codi mentions her plan to leave town once the school year is over, continuing her life as a wanderer, avoiding being tied down. When Loyd asks her where she’ll go after June, she responds saying she doesn’t know, and pokes her “fingers through the holes in the black-and-red afghan, a decades old nervous habit”, and when Loyd then asks her who she sees herself marrying, she simply says “I don’t”, illustrating her desire to avoid such commitments (p 186). At this point the afghan is symbolizing her desire to cling to the past – to habits from her childhood, as Codi hopes to continue her life and to avoid the major changes that come with commitment. The blanket is truly a symbol of her desire to cling to the past, for when Codi finds out Hallie has been kidnapped she sits with the “black-and-red afghan bundled about [her]”, contemplating the need for Hallie in her life (p 278). The blanket, which once had brought the girls together, was Codi’s way of attempting to reclaim that bygone time, rather than accept the harsh reality of the present. Even as time moves forward Codi tries to cling to her childhood, a time when she was free of commitment and close to her sister, with the afghan serving as a bridge between the past and the present for Codi.

As the novel draws to a close, Codi finally begins to accept the past and to live in the present, a significant change which is symbolized by the burying of the afghan. The afghan, which once symbolized the close bond between Codi and her sister Hallie, ends up serving as a memorial to Hallie after she is murdered in Nicaragua. Codi initially tries to run away from the fact that her sister was gone, leaving Grace to continue her noncommittal wandering, only to soon return – evidence of a change which overcomes her at the novel’s end. This change is symbolized by the burying of the afghan, filled with childhood belongings memorializing Hallie, for once the blanket is buried Codi comes to realize that her sister wasn’t the hero she had made her out to be, telling her father that “She wanted to save herself. Just like we all do.” (344) Codi’s change entails a newfound self-confidence and an ability to accept what happened in the past and to still live in the present, finally committing herself to a meaningful relationship instead of wandering away from those who care about her. In this way the burying of the afghan, which had been a symbol of Codi’s desire to regain the past rather than to focus on the present, comes to symbolize Codi’s release of the past and acceptance of the present (including of her sister’s death) – aspects of the fundamental change of which overcomes Codi at the novels end.

Animal Dreams follows the transformation of the main character, Codi, from her desire to retain the past to her transformation into one who can accept the present and move forward. Much of this change is symbolized in the black-and-red afghan blanket which Codi and her sister owned – a blanket which goes from comfort blanket to an attempt to reclaim a piece of the past and which finally serves as a symbol of Codi’s acceptance of the present, when she buries the blanket and commits herself to a life. Such a symbol allows the reader to get a clearer picture of the stages of a characters transformation, symbolizing their thoughts in a meaningful manner for the reader to see.


  • Animal Dreams. Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishing, 1990.

Literature | Book Review

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