The Lives of Animals – J.M. Coetzee

Throughout The Lives of Animals, John Bernard despairs over the actions of his mother, author Elizabeth Costello. He does not understand her lectures, her passion for animal rights, or what she hopes to achieve by giving such divisive talks.

After her first lecture, in “The Philosophers and the Animals,” John thinks desperately, “Why can she not be an ordinary old woman living an ordinary old woman’s life? If she wants to open her heart to animals, why can’t she stay home and open it to her cats?” (Coetzee, 38).

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As we learn in “The Poets and the Animals”, Elizabeth herself doesn’t know why she pursues such uncomfortable subject matters and confrontations, noting only that “I just don’t want to sit silent” (Coetzee, 59).

Reading these two quotes together, please write a 100-150 word response to the following:

To continue the rhetoric used in the lecture, if human beings are gifted with “reason” and animals are denied it, do we have a responsibility to do more than sit silent and live an ordinary life?

Does this hierarchization (which Elizabeth would surely object to) automatically place humans in the dual position of abuser and advocate?

Or do we overstep natural boundaries by assuming responsibility over animal livelihood?

Consider the arguments made in the text and your own personal opinion while crafting your response.

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