The Days When the Animals Talked Critical Essays

William J. Faulkner


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The stories from the slave’s experience told in part 1 of The Days When the Animals Talked are sharply poignant. Their effect can be explained by the line in a Negro spiritual that says, “I’m so glad, trouble don’t last always,” offering advice about thinking a positive thought in a troubled situation. The stories in which an enslaved person is successful in his or her attempt to avoid some measure of pain are not only captivating but also instructive; they teach others in a comparable situation, facing a strong adversary, how to survive and even profit. One lesson is about giving a humane response to inhumane treatment. While it is human to react negatively to negative behavior—to show anger in response to anger, resentment in response to resentment—such reactions are excluded from the folktales. Instead, the reactions of the characters are logical and carefully worked out. There is a distinct and vibrant spirituality in the songs and Golden Rule behavior in the tales in this collection. The morning and evening prayer of Simon Brown is especially noteworthy. Various artistic qualities are found in these narratives, but many embody a constant testimony to faith in a Supreme Being and the reward of joy from acting on that faith.

One characteristic of the animal stories in part 2 is a set of unstated messages about relationships between animals, which signify relationships between people, usually between an owner and an enslaved...

(The entire section is 573 words.)