Farley Mowat World Literature Analysis
In a 1987 interview, Mowat characterized himself as someoneinterested in writing about wildlife, but that’s secondary. I am basically a storyteller. . . . [I]t’s my life. . . . [M]ore and more I’m being categorized as a nature writer. That’s nonsense. I’m not a nature writer. I write about life on this planet, and that includes human life and nonhuman life. I’m concerned about what’s happening to all forms of life.
For Mowat, nature provides the arena in which to explore the interconnectedness of all life and to assert the legitimacy of the many ways of living on this planet. The primary targets of his work are bureaucracy, technology, and cultural imperialism and the ways in which industrialized societies have arrogantly ignored the needs and rights of the other inhabitants of the globe, including those inhabitants that are not human.
Mowat’s strong personality reverberates throughout his work, a style that has been labeled “subjective nonfiction” by one of his critics. He does not shrink from confrontation or from assigning blame where he thinks it lies, as in the case of the Canadian government in People of the Deer. This pugnaciousness often earns him criticism, or, as in the case of the events that prompted him to write about the Ihalmiuts, the loss of his job. Pleasing the powers that be has never been one of Mowat’s concerns, however; he instead is determined to make his views known and, by doing so, to raise public awareness and effect change.
The Canadian north country and the tundra provide Mowat with ample opportunity to accomplish both goals. The Siberians, for example, is his account of two trips that he made to the Soviet Union, visiting remote settlements where people lead a self-contained and self-respecting way of life. In the case of both the Siberians and the Ihalmiut Eskimo in People of the Deer, Mowat finds people who tread softly on the earth, who are in tune with rather than up in arms against nature. These people do not destroy for the sake of the hunt; rather, he says, “they kill to eat, to keep themselves going, but they don’t kill for fun, they don’t kill for greed, they don’t kill from any of the motivations that we have.” Mowat repeatedly looks at the Canadian wilderness and sees it as a staging ground for exploitation and neglect, for human arrogance and greed, and for disregard for a more widely focused ecological balance and harmony. His examination of the early polar explorers in Ordeal by Ice and The Polar Passion clearly demonstrates the futility of battling against nature, which always wins.
Mowat’s angry reverence for nature and his accusatory stance against arrogant technological aggression on the part of the Canadian government may be seen in such books as Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing. He and others have pointed out the irony in the Canadian government’s disregard of his findings concerning the tundra wolves. In A Whale for the Killing, Mowat could not convince his neighbors that a trapped whale had a right to be freed rather than tortured, and he used the creature’s story to explore the wholesale slaughter of sea creatures and the negligence of the Canadian government. Sea of Slaughter represents a broader consideration of the issues that Mowat raised in the previous two books and clearly demonstrates his anger at the senseless injuries that people inflict on other species. Mowat makes a strong case against the exploitation of both the land-and the sea-dwelling animals along the Atlantic seaboard from Cape Cod to Labrador. To strengthen the impact of Sea of Slaughter, he offers a historical account of the area beginning in the sixteenth century, clearly demonstrating the frightening and unnecessary changes that humans have caused as they pillaged both land and sea: pollution, overhunting, destruction of habitat and food sources, poaching, and government-sanctioned cullings of seal and other animals.
Mowat sees himself as a rebel and seems to relish the opportunity that his confrontations with government, academia, and other representatives of the establishment, such as business and industry, afford him for driving his message home. He sometimes uses wry humor to make his points, as in My Discovery of America, in which he describes his attempts to discover why he had been denied permission to enter the United States for a speaking tour in 1984. Mowat speculates that he had been accused of anti-American sentiments; his pugnacious attitude surfaced in his refusal to come to the United States despite that country’s Immigration and Naturalization Service having belatedly granted him admission, refusing because the United States’ government had yet to apologize for its mistake.
Never Cry Wolf
First published: 1963
Type of work: Natural history and autobiography
The wolves of the Arctic wilderness are not the fierce predators that their detractors have accused them of being.
Never Cry Wolf recounts Mowat’s experiences as a biologist and naturalist sent by the Canadian government to study a group of wolves in the Canadian tundra of the far north. It had always been assumed that the wolves were a threat to other wildlife populations and, by extension, to domestic herds because they needlessly destroyed large numbers of animals. Mowat’s experiences living in the midst of the tundra, the wolves, and the caribou herd stand in direct contradiction to the Canadian government’s assumption that the wolves were to blame for the decline in those caribou populations. As Mowat was to discover, however, his findings were not information that government bureaucrats wanted to hear. Unlike the...
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