Margaret Atwood’s “Dreams of the Animals” consists of several verse paragraphs that explore the nature of animal “dreams” and force readers to reexamine their ideas about what distinguishes humans from animals. By assuming that animals do, in fact, dream, Atwood obliterates traditional beliefs about their mental and intellectual limitations and makes them quite human. The notion that animals “mostlydream/ of other animals each according to its own kind” has a biblical ring and does seem to suggest that animal dreams lack the complexity and range of human ones. After all, moles dream of “mole smells,” and frogs dream of “green and golden/ frogs.”
Atwood, however, includes an indented parenthetical verse paragraph that states that some animals have “nightmares” of impending death; the ability to imagine, to anticipate what might happen, is a far cry from behavior modification, of merely reacting because of conditioning. The speaker describes the dreams of moles, frogs, fish, and birds. For the most part, the dreams are idyllic, but two dreams extend the range of animal dreams. The fish dream of “defence, attack meaningful/ patterns,” and the birds dream of “territories/ enclosed by singing.” The first dream connotes stratagems, and the second, acquisitions; both are usually associated with human behavior.
Halfway through the poem the dreams turn sour: “Sometimes the animals dream of evil.” After repeating...
(The entire section is 467 words.)