What lengths will people go to in order to find inner peace and happiness with themselves? Clarice Lispectors short story titled The Buffalo comes from a series of short stories made in her book titled Family Ties. The main character in the story goes to the Zoological Gardens to help relieve themselves after she had just witnessed heartbreak after learning she loved a man who did not love her back. At first glance, the setting of a Zoological Garden may seem quite odd.
However, this essay will argue and closely examine why Clarice Lispector chose a zoo in the first place and why the zoo is the ideal setting to display the deeper message in this short story. Clarice Lispectors reason for choosing a zoo as the setting of this story is because it highlights how the protagonist is caged within her own mind, also it demonstrates perfectly the relationship between those who are really freed and those who are trapped within their own mind.
The protagonist in this story is a woman who had just been rejected by someone who she loves dearly. All she has ever known was how to love. She could never hate and does not even know how. Even though the person that she loved rejected her, she still could not hate him for it. She wants to hate but she cannot help but still love this person. This bothers her deeply and her anger with herself for not knowing how to hate upsets her so much that she takes a trip to the zoo in order to attempt to end her grief.
By walking through the zoo, she hopes to learn and gather information on how to hate by looking at each animal.
The protagonists adventure through the zoo only seems to confuse and frustrate her even more. At first, she sees the lions but can only see love between the lion and lioness (Lispector 222). When she encounters the lion exhibit it is easy to see that the main character is frustrated. Fists in her coat pockets, she looked around, surrounded by the cages, caged by the shut cages. She kept walking. Her eyes were so focused on searching that her vison sometimes darkened into a kind of sleep, and then shed recompose herself as in the coolness of a pit. (Lispector 222).
Notice how the author says fists in her coat pockets instead of hands in her coat pockets. Normally people do not have their hand in a fist while it is in their pocket, when you think of a closed fist you associate that with anger, this shows the clear frustration of the protagonist as she watches the lions. Notice that also in this same quote there is a big emphasis on cages. It is mentioned three times in one sentence. This is to further hammer home the point of how oppression and locked in she feels. She cannot help but feel caged in. This is all because she has lost control of herself and her feelings. There is significant irony when the author talks about the protagonist being surrounded by shut cages. Instead of the animals who are caged in, the protagonist is really the one who is trapped and oppressed. As the protagonist goes from animal to animal in the zoo it displays truly how frustrated and lost she is within her own mind.
Later on, in the zoo the protagonist comes across a coati. The one thing that she notices when she first sees the coati was the animals simplicity (Lispector 226). She could never hate that coati who looked at her with the silence of an inquiring body. Disturbed, she averted her eyes from the coatis simplicity. The curious coati asking a question the way a child asks. And she averting her eyes, concealing from her deadly mission. (Lispector 226-227)
From this quote you can tell she is upset with coatis simple lifestyle and childlike innocence. She is jealous, as her life seems to be the opposite. She is dealing with a lot of stress caused by heartbreak from someone she still loves. On the surface it appears that the coati is the one who is trapped, but really it is the protagonist who is truly trapped, trapped in her own mind. Her forehead was pressed up against the bars so firmly that for an instant it looked like she was the caged one and a free coati was examining her. (Lispector 227).
By having the plot of this story take place in a zoo, it shows how bitter and trapped the main character is in her own mind when you compare her against the animals, who are living life peacefully, when in reality they are the ones are actually trapped while being locked in a cage. The protagonist is so upset and has so much conflict going on her mind that she cannot possibly be free. She is sub consciously and ironically building a cage around herself, causing her to be mentally boxed in.
The protagonists anger and bitterness really shows when she encounters the monkey exhibit. She is immediately angered by the monkeys happiness and freedom with themselves shed kill those monkeys levitating in their cage, monkeys happy as weeds, monkeys leaping about gently (Lispector 223). She evens go as far to say that she would like to shoot the monkeys, specifically right between the eyes, But she wouldnt aim at his chest, shed shoot the monkey between the eyes, shed shoot between those eyes that were staring at her without blinking. (Lispector 223).
The protagonists anger and sadness are so extreme that she even has a desire to kill innocent monkeys who are genuinely happy and at peace with themselves. Once again this brings back the idea of how ironic it is that the ones who are actually caged in are the happy ones and the person who is not caged is the one who hates themselves and feels trapped.