Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420
The Cattle Killing, being a surreal and non-linear novel, can be difficult make sense of in terms of plot or the large cast of characters. With that said, this lends the story all the more toward a reading that focuses on key quotations throughout the text.
Part One begins with an epigraph from the Christian Bible:
Prepare your baggage as though for exile. (Ezekiel 12:3)
While this may be a quote the author borrows from another book, it frames our entire reading of the story. Considering that the novel's plot concerns itself with a preacher who leaves his home to travel to Philadelphia in 1793, it makes sense that the story would immediately draw the reader to the idea of exile—what it means to leave someone's homeland. Further, this connects to the theme of African diaspora as a whole. The novel centers around the African Xhoba tribe while they face enslavement by European colonizers. This quote invites the reader to think of the African diaspora to the United States as another form of exile.
Another relevant quote to one's reading of The Cattle Killing occurs in the Epilogue. D.J., in a letter toward the end of the novel, writes,
The letters will speak for themselves. I intend to work them into my slave castle book.
This quote reminds the reader of the importance of the written word and storytelling as a theme in The Cattle Killing. The novel itself contains so many fables, so many stories and stories within those stories that it can be difficult to keep track of, but it is through this act of storytelling that characters remember their histories and gain agency. When D.J. writes that the letters speak for themselves toward the end of the novel, it reminds the reader of one of the book's pre-eminent themes: the power of the written word. D.J. says his narratives will speak for themselves, just like the novel itself does.
It is worth nothing, though, that the power of storytelling in this book exists in the ability for a person to walk in the shoes of another and embrace many selves when they hear a story. It reminds the reader of one of the novel's more important quotes toward the beginning of the book:
You step out the hotel door and into another skin.
This quote perfectly demonstrates what The Cattle Killing does: it allows readers to slip into the skin of other characters and better understand the nature of racial injustice in the United States.