Judith J. Radke
It is in the half-light of limbo that we see the forms of animals and men in Gascar's Les Bêtes…. The stories with a war or pre-war setting take place in semi-darkness, an absence of light…. The evening light in which animal forms proliferate and images of fear multiply is both that of a tormented world at war and that of the interior recesses of the minds of individual men.
When one is at that time of day which is "entre chien et loup," it is difficult to distinguish the man from the animal, the animal from the object. The title, "Entre chiens et loups," given to the longest story of this collection, is doubly ironic: it intimates that the conflict of man and dog described in the story is that of the dog with a more savage animal, a wolf, and it describes too that indistinct twilight in which the story is bathed, one in which it cannot be determined if the ambiguous shape seen in the distance is dog or wolf. One form appears to already be, or be about to become, another. The bench on which the butcher kills his animals resembles his victims with outspread legs; trees become "crucifiés" in the winter light…. (p. 85)
There is not just a superficial resemblance of forms in the dimness nor does Gascar stress this similarity solely for the purposes of comparison, in a symbolic or metaphoric fashion. In this dream-like atmosphere one form becomes another; there is a constant metamorphosis. There is the constant possibility of change in man and animal, either in the direction of evolution or that of atavism…. We are threatened by a rapid proliferation of forms, constant transformations….
There is here no line completely separating the animal kingdom from the world of men…. Gaston is an entirely new species…. He is the animal form of a new species of hate or evil which invades and conquers us each time another conquering horde invades our soil. We will return home one day and find this new species installed in our home, waiting for us.
In such an animal-man world, it cannot be assumed that man remains superior to the animal in the hierarchy of species. This superiority in the order of creation is a myth which the commandant in charge of training dogs for attack would like to believe, just as he would insist that man's word "war" denotes an orderly, rational and impersonal science, a civilized skill. (p. 86)
From the very first, [the narrator] senses that it is man, the common soldier, that is being regimented and controlled …, and that the dogs are but hiding their violence under a deceiving cloak of obedience. He recognizes their insubordination. Man, the "master," has nurtured the savage force of the dog, but he cannot truly control and discipline that force, which he would set loose against his fellow men.
For it is man who is the hunter as well as the hunted. The commandant is not superior and apart from his dogs…. The dogs are the reflection of a savage atavism in man himself. Although the organized, passionless nature of his violence deceives the commandant and makes him see himself as superior, it is really he, not Franz, who is a throwback...
(The entire section is 1301 words.)