They Cage the Animals at Night Critical Essays

Jennings Michael Burch


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In They Cage the Animals at Night, Burch tells the story of his life in foster homes and institutions and presents a gripping autobiography of an ordinary person who persevered against adversity. In doing so, he not only creates a picture of a small, sad, lonely, and innocent young boy but also presents a social commentary on the places where children are taken and the reasons that they are sent there.

Written when Burch was in his early forties, this fictionalized autobiography contains Burch’s recollections of his life from ages eight to twelve. Taking a child’s point of view, Burch tells his story in the first person, with much reconstructed realistic dialogue not only for himself but for all the characters. Although Burch explains that he has changed the names of the people and the institutions, there is no indication of the extent to which the events or the characters are composites or are fictionalized. The reader must guess about the author’s personal bias toward the events and the other characters and must assume that the recollections are factually accurate and authentic.

Burch’s work is a study in contrasts. He graphically depicts the pain, suffering, and stark realities of orphanages and foster homes. While there is no sexual abuse, there is mental or emotional abuse, as well as some physical abuse. Burch remembers how, as a child, he was unable to control his own life or to understand what was happening to him. Over and over, he stresses the...

(The entire section is 613 words.)