Critical Evaluation

Barbara Kingsolver attempts in her fiction both to entertain and to effect change in the world. Animal Dreams, like most of her novels, addresses political, social, and environmental issues; it can be categorized as ecofiction. In 2000, Kingsolver was awarded the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for service through art.

Kingsolver began writing the novel by asking herself a question: What causes one person to become engaged with the world while another one is not? She explores the answer through the contrasting lives of Codi and Hallie. The contrasting experiences of the two sisters shape the choices they make. Animal Dreams focuses on Codi, who has been estranged from her father, her hometown, and the larger arena of political and social issues. Codi has a negative view of herself, but she gradually makes connections that allow her to become more confident. Codi narrates most of the novel’s twenty-eight chapters in the first person, while Hallie’s voice is heard in her letters. Seven of the chapters are narrated in the third person and filtered through Homer’s perspective.

Codi has a distant relationship with her father. His high standards and protective actions do not satisfy Codi’s need for emotional support, and they serve to undermine her self-confidence. Homer cannot verbalize his love for his daughters. Codi’s secret miscarriage also separates her from her father and contributes to her sense of failure. Her decision not to complete medical school is another source of her lack of self-worth. By the end of the novel, however, Codi has managed to discuss dropping out of medical school with Homer and has learned about some secrets that he himself kept. She is able to let go of her negativity.

Codi has always felt like an outsider in Grace because Homer encouraged her and Hallie to think of themselves as more intelligent than the others in town and because she believed she had no...

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