The Cage

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Beryl Findham, the main character of THE CAGE, makes her living photographing animals. As she tells Maggie, a mail carrier from Atlanta who spends two months each year guarding Churchill, a small town on the shore of Hudson Bay, from polar bears, “I want to learn to survive on my own, to face extremes.” For this reason, she has applied for an assignment from a magazine called NATURAL PHOTOGRAPHY to photograph polar bears in their arctic habitat in winter.

She is chosen for the assignment because she is small enough to fit into the cage the expedition requires, as is David Golding, a cameraman. Butler, a naturalist, and Jean-Claude, a highly experienced twenty-year-old guide, complete the expedition’s team.

Beryl begins to understand what she will confront when the team arrives in Churchill. As she takes pictures of the bears scavenging in the town dump, she discovers how unpredictable polar bears can be, at one moment predatory, at another curious, at another almost playful, at yet another easily frightened.

Beryl’s feel for animals is as tactile as it is visual. Indeed, touch and warmth are synonymous in an environment where any heat at all is crucial. Beryl knows this instinctively, for when a snow storm nearly kills her one night in town, she crawls under a bear attacking Maggie and pushes “her nose . . . deep within the private heat of his fur.” That the perilous cold of the Arctic numbs her is all the more reason...

(The entire section is 401 words.)