Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Dr. Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking studies of the chimpanzees living in Tanzania’s Gombe preserve revolutionized the understanding of what it means to be human. Her startling observations of chimps making and using tools prompted the now famous comment by her mentor, Dr. Louis Leakey, “Ah! We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!” Her discoveries are documented in her many books, including In the Shadow of Man (1971), the seminal Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior (1986), and Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe (1990). Goodall is also known for her active role as a conservationist and humanitarian. In 1986, she began traveling to raise funds on behalf of reforestation, improved conditions for captive chimps, and Roots & Shoots, a program for youngsters designed to foster environmental awareness. She is often asked how she can be so peaceful and optimistic in the face of environmental destruction and human and animal suffering. She attempts to answer this question in Reason for Hope as she retraces the personal, professional, and spiritual paths that have given her life direction, meaning, and purpose.
Born in pre-World War II England, Goodall was raised on her family’s estate by a group of strong, independent women that included her grandmother, mother, sister, and two aunts. Recollections of her childhood are bathed in warmth, innocence, and simplicity. The memories she chooses to share offer a glimpse of a time when children had to find ways to amuse themselves without the aid of television, computers, and video games. An avid reader, she spent her days in the family’s garden doing homework or reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’sTarzan novels. She also roamed the cliffs near her house with her dog, Rusty, and closely observed the nature around her. Her precise descriptions of what she remembers seeing on her childhood explorations reveal her exacting nature and passion for detail—traits that she would put to good use in the forests of Gombe.
In addition to encouraging her interest in animals, her family’s Christian beliefs molded Goodall’s spiritual views, and she attributes her strong faith in God to her secure childhood. She notes, “Like most children who grow up in happy homes, I never had cause to question the religious beliefs of my family.” Her grandfather had been a Congregational minister and her grandmother, Danny, and mother, Vanne, quoted Scripture often. During the difficult times of her life, Goodall has often drawn strength from the verses she heard as a child. Although her childhood was “gently permeated by the ethics of Christianity,” Goodall began to move away from orthodox belief when, as a teenager, she read the Bible “extensively and carefully.” She questioned dogmatic beliefs such as the Virgin birth and the real presence in the Eucharist. She also wrestled with the problem of evil. She was shocked by the horrors of the Holocaust and began to wonder about the nature of God, asking herself, “If God was good and all powerful as I had been led to believe, how could He allow so many innocent people to suffer and die?” Her doubt launched her on a search for an alternative spirituality that made more sense to her, although she did not jettison Christianity completely. For example, influenced by theosophy in her late teens, she embraced belief in reincarnation and rejected the Christian doctrine that an individual has only one life to live on earth and then, after death, faces final judgment.
“Death,” one of the most emotionally wrenching chapters in the book, recounts the final illness and passing of Goodall’s second husband, Derek Bryceson, and more explicitly reveals Goodall’s religious views. When Bryceson died of cancer, his passing left Goodall in deep mourning. However, a series of paranormal events after his death brought Goodall comfort and healing. She tells of one particularly vivid episode where she believes that she saw and talked with Bryceson while she was having an out-of-body experience. Many scientists would undoubtedly scoff at such a revelation, especially when it comes from one of their own colleagues. Goodall is all too aware of the scientific emphasis on logic and objectivity, but is resolute in her belief:
I do not feel the need to prove this to anyone; there are many who feel the same but we are ill-equipped by Western education for...
(The entire section is 1819 words.)
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