In the Shadow of Man Critical Essays

Jane Goodall


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Goodall has written a number of works about her research at the Gombe Stream, but in general these are written for the scientific community. In the Shadow of Man is written for a more popular audience. As such, it sets out not only to record Goodall’s observations but also to explain how she made those observations and how she interpreted their meanings. The book is accessible to an adolescent audience principally because of this emphasis.

The book is also an important autobiography for the adolescent because of several themes that recur in the narrative. Foremost among these is the ecological concern for the preservation of the chimpanzees and their environment. Goodall continually refers to the sheer beauty of the Gombe Stream region, with its mountainous terrain, tall grasses, and lush foliage. The chimpanzees, she argues, can only truly be studied in their natural habitat, and humanity is responsible for the stewardship of that habitat. In a zoo setting, the entire social hierarchy and behavioral patterns are disrupted. The young adult reader cannot come away from this book without sensing this overriding concern.

In addition, Goodall points out the significance of her study. In evolutionary terms, there is no closer creature to humanity than the chimpanzee. Goodall asserts that, in coming to understand the chimpanzee, humans may come to understand something about themselves and certainly about their early days. Therefore, the book becomes more than simply a narrative derived from a field study; in a larger sense, it is a study of...

(The entire section is 642 words.)