115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Traces of Colonization and Environmentalism in the Works of Luis Sepulveda 

Maria Padilla, University of Chicago

This paper looks at the representation of non-human beings in The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly and The Story of a Dog Named Leal by Luis Sepulveda. In a defamiliarized context, animals are used instruments to denounce injustices and to deliver a message. 


Animal Studies, a discipline within the humanities and social sciences investigates the relationship between human and non-human animals. Studying past and present relationships between human and non-human animals raises awareness about the need for the enhancement of animal life. Furthermore, “Animal Studies engages the many ways that human individuals and cultures are now interacting with and exploring other-than-human animals, in the past have engaged the living beings beyond our own species, and in the future might develop ways of living in a world shared with other animals” (Waldau 1). In the realm of literature, these relationships are studied and analyzed by looking at the representation of animals and the strategies employed to explore alternative realities, the realities of other animals.


While scholars like Thomas Nagel conclude that imagining to be an animal will never be equal to the experience of those animals, there are others like Mark Payne, who make it possible to imagine what it would mean for humans to see themselves as animals see them. This paper looks at the representation of the non-human as something invaluable. It considers what the textual representations of the non-human have to offer, by way of alternative realities and identifies possible future human and non-human relationships. The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who taught her to Fly (1996) and The Story of a Dog Named Leal (2016), by Luis Sepulveda, are studied from an Animal Studies and Ecocritical lens. Both works have animals as narrators or protagonists to denounce abuse and exploitation, and to point at problematic human perceptions and at values that may be lacking. As a result, coexistence between species, and even within different groups of people, is truncated. The non-human beings become instruments, and this paper looks at the textual animals to determine the author’s message behind the “utopic” animal encounters in the text, and the justification for the animal selection.  


In both novels, it is possible to trace the treatment that different animals receive by different people. Some of the animals are treated well, while others are not. The conception of animals and the resulting treatment varies from person to person, and cultural and religious beliefs rooted in a culture play an important role in the conception of the world and in the interaction between the self and everything around. In the relationship with and conception of the world, two contrasting cosmologies are meaningful: that of the Westerners and that of some indigenous groups. This paper also looks at Western thought and Mapuche cosmology to justify the way the natural world is represented and the human-human, animal-human, and the animal-animal encounters.


Given the pedagogical intention of the author, each animal encounter is strategic, and teaches us something about human and non-human beings. Examining the animal encounters closely sheds new light on the exemplary power of literature, as it gives us access and terrain to aspects of the world from an unfamiliar and alternative perspective, through the eyes of the non-human.