Gorillas in the Mist Essay - Critical Context

Dian Fossey

Critical Context

Public interest in the behavior of chimpanzees and great apes was first stimulated in the 1960’s by many articles in National Geographic and reports in other popular media. Along with Fossey, Jane Goodall, who worked with chimpanzees, and Biruté Galdikas, who studied orangutans, were pioneers in discovering and communicating to the world the endearing character of these animals. Fossey’s book was widely popular when it was first published, and interest surged again when a film loosely based on it was released in 1988. Young readers may be somewhat misled if Fossey’s book is their only source on the subject, and even more so if they only see the film version of Gorillas in the Mist.

More details of Fossey’s life are included in Woman in the Mists (1987), by Farley Mowat. The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey (1990), by Harold T. Hayes, is highly critical of Fossey, as is Sy Montgomery’s book Walking with the Great Apes (1991). Montgomery also chronicles the work of Goodall and Galdikas, who are subject to similar but much milder criticism. He and other writers go so far as to charge that Fossey was mentally ill.

Gorillas in the Mist, along with such easy-to-read books as Goodall’s Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe (1990); The Education of Koko (1981), by Francine Patterson and Eugene Linden; and Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons (1987), by Shirley C. Strum, can be worthy starting points for more serious study of primates. The work that Fossey started was continued in Rwanda until it was disrupted by civil war in the early 1990’s.