Menagerie, a Child's Fable Summary
by Charles Johnson

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(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Menagerie, a Child’s Fable,’’ by Charles Johnson, was first published in a magazine in 1984, and reprinted in the short story collection The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in 1986. Although it is subtitled ‘‘A Child’s Fable,’’ ‘‘Menagerie, a Child’s Fable’’ is aimed at the adult reader and addresses serious social and political issues.

‘‘Menagerie, a Child’s Fable’’ takes place in a pet store where the main character, a German shepherd named Berkeley, works as a watchdog. One day the owner of the shoppe does not show up as usual, and the animals conclude that he is dead. After several days, Berkeley, who is the only one not confined to a cage, frees the other animals so they can get to the food supplies. Once all of the animals are released from captivity and must learn to live together, they begin to compete for the food supplies, to threaten one another with violence, and even to prey on one another. Berkeley tries to keep the peace, and to protect the more vulnerable animals from the predators, but the situation becomes more and more chaotic. Berkeley finally falls asleep from exhaustion and has a dream that the owner has returned to the shoppe and praises the dog for doing a good job of keeping the peace. When Berkeley wakes up, Monkey is holding a gun and shoots him in the chest. As Berkeley lies on the floor bleeding to death, a fire spreads throughout the shop.

‘‘Menagerie, a Child’s Fable’’ is a fable using animal characters in the setting of a pet shoppe to comment on the state of humanity as a diverse global community. The story addresses themes of freedom and oppression, racism and pluralism, democracy and fascism, and war and peace.


(Short Stories for Students)

Berkeley, a German shepherd, works as the watchdog at Tilford’s Pet Shoppe, owned by Mr. Tilford. Berkeley is proud of his work, and is considered one of the best watchdogs in Seattle. Although Mr. Tilford is unkind to the animals and never shows any affection or appreciation for Berkeley, the dog remains faithful to his master. One day Mr. Tilford does not show up at the pet shop. Monkey tells Berkeley that Mr. Tilford has obviously died of a heart attack and is never going to return, but Berkeley has faith that the owner will eventually come back.

After several days go by, all of the animals begin clamoring in their cages, demanding that they will starve to death if no one feeds them. Monkey convinces Berkeley to let all of the animals out of their cages so they can get to the food. Berkeley reluctantly frees Monkey and the other animals. The only one who does not want to be released is Tortoise, who had escaped from the pet shoppe a year earlier but returned of his own accord.

At first the animals are united by their common purpose of obtaining food, but soon animosity develops between the various species. Some of the animals become greedy and don’t care if other animals get enough food or not. Berkeley tries to keep constant watch over all the animals in order to maintain the peace. The fish and birds are...

(The entire section is 803 words.)