Canadian Short Fiction

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Student Question

In Charles Roberts' story "Do Seek Their Meat From God", how might the last two paragraphs create reader sympathy conflict?

Quick answer:

The last two paragraphs show the reader through the description of suffering, how both of the species are in need of help. While the human baby is saved, the panther cubs are left to die. The fear and pain that both species feel by this shows the reader how similar they are despite their differences.

Expert Answers

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While the reader is fully expected to sympathize with the human characters in the story, the panthers are also shown as sympathetic creatures, since they are acting on instinct rather than malice. The panthers are, in fact, set up as sympathetic from the start, showing their small cubs hungry in their cave and the adult panthers looking for food. The narrator explains explicitly that the panthers are hunting out of instinctive hunger, not from "rage" or "cruelty."

On their success ... depended not only their own, but the lives of their blind and helpless young, now whimpering in the cave...

The settler who hears the cries of a child assumes that they are those of a vagrant's child, and almost passes them by. He cannot know that the child is his own, run away to the forest cabin to visit the vagrent's child; the settler's child is grief-stricken that his companion is gone, and his cries draw the panthers. It is only his concern for any child that lets the settler intervene and discover how close he came to losing his own child.

He remembered how near he had been to disregarding the far-off cries, and great beads of sweat broke out upon his forehead.


In the ravine he found a shallow cave, behind a great white rock. ...on some dry herbage in the deepest corner of the den, he found the dead bodies, now rapidly decaying, of two small panther cubs.
(Roberts, "Do Seek Their Meat From God,"

Thus, these last two paragraphs serve to show the disparity in a reader's expected emotion; the reader is meant to desire a happy ending for the human characters because of self-identification. However, the settler inadvertently killed the two panther cubs as well, since he killed their parents; the cubs were unable to feed themselves and starved to death. This is sad because of the helplessness of the cubs; the reader is not meant to take pleasure in their deaths despite the necessary saving of the human child. A helpless creature is pathetic in any situation, and even more so when it is an infant, as are the cubs. The reader must therefore reconcile relief at the salvation of the human child, and sadness at the necessary, but cruel, deaths of the panther cubs.

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