A young widow has lost not only her husband but her infant son in a plague. She takes the creature in and he is starving; she nurses him and the narrator tells us that she obeys the great commandment of the Universe, that one life equals another. A man going by the house hears a noise and concludes that there is a wild animal in the house—the woman there are no names, a common motif of much parabolic literature runs out the back door of the cottage and a snake stops her and tells her that she should have no fear—that her great love has transformed the tiger cub and he will only lose his humanity when another mother calls for his blood. She goes back in the house and lets the frantic man in—he searches everywhere but finds only the woman and her baby boy.
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A young widow has lost not only her husband but her infant son in a plague. She takes the creature in and he is starving; she nurses him and the narrator tells us that she obeys the great commandment of the Universe, that one life equals another.
A man going by the house hears a noise and concludes that there is a wild animal in the house—the woman there are no names, a common motif of much parabolic literature runs out the back door of the cottage and a snake stops her and tells her that she should have no fear—that her great love has transformed the tiger cub and he will only lose his humanity when another mother calls for his blood.
She goes back in the house and lets the frantic man in—he searches everywhere but finds only the woman and her baby boy. She names him Juan Darien.
They live an idyllic life for 10 years and then the good woman dies and Juan Darien is orphaned. One thinks of the victims of the Salem witchcraft trials and the tendency to scapegoat the outsider, the weak, and those with no one to defend them—watch bullies at any level work and this is what you will see. What sounds do you hear from the river?
The interrogator claims this is proof that Juan Darien is a tiger though the narrator has been quite clear that when he arrived on the doorstep of his mother that his eyes had NOT opened—he could NEVER have seen the things that he narrates. Juan Darien is locked in a cage with the dogs and the dogs are told to get the tiger—they jump around madly but leave Juan Darien alone in fact they merely lick him in a friendly way.
The man then takes to beating the child until he raises stripes on his back. Then Juan Darien is turned loose, his clothes stripped from him, and he staggers towards home begging to be understood—it is incredibly painful to watch. He sees a woman with her infant in her arms and stretches out his hands in supplication to her—and she claims he is attacking her and demands blood.
He is left to die in the jungle but does not. We are told that he retains three things from his time as a human: 1 he is able to use his hands; 2 he retains language; and 3 he retains his memory. The tiger Juan Darien has the patience of a wild animal and he hunts the man who most tormented him finally capturing him and torturing him in EXACTLY the same manner he was tortured as a little boy.
The tiger leads a war against the humans. All of this and more in just 7 or 8 pages. On first blush it suggests that the power of love is so extraordinary that it can make humanity out of non-human forms.
And there is something incredibly seductive about that. There is also the drive towards justice or maybe vengeance? If we are loved then we become human—until then we are merely animals. And this notion has been claimed by lovers about their beloved ones world-wide. But…if we can be made human by love, can we be rendered sub-human by being treated as sub-human? Can we have our humanity stripped from us by poverty, by slavery, by the concentration camp?
Well, if our humanity is NOT essential to us then I suppose that is true. Do we want to believe that? Should we? Is our humanity conditional or essential?
It suggests that humanity or human-ness is conditional—and can be taken from us. Or maybe, you are thinking, Quiroga has left us a tiny aperture to squeeze another idea in. What happens to Juan Darien takes place before he is 12 years old.
The level of vocabulary is elementary and the plot direct. What remarkable depths this story plumbs, leading us believe that our humanity is constructed by others. My students and I often end our dialogue about this story in a kind of reverential silence, each of us inside our own heads, turning over the ideas and looking for answers about who we are and how we came to be.
The story should be better known than it is. Filed under "Juan Darien" , books and learning , critical thinking , first person narration , Horacio Quiroga , Human Nature , pedagogy , teaching , Uncategorized. I have read nothing by Horacio Quiroga…this was quite an interesting post and anytime you set up a situation where students are thinking deeply—its dangerous, deliciously dangerous.
Hi Mary Kim, thanks for following along and for the great comment. I read the platform you quoted above through a link someone sent me. And to have my own ideas challenged. Again, wow. Kraz, if I remember correctly, was not only taking the stance that Andrew was human because of his ability to think and feel, but that he was more human than many unreflective homo sapiens. Ultimately, I think we were mostly in agreement philosophically, if not semantically.
Thomas, I realize again how fortunate I was to be in class with you! Your recap of the discussion you had with Mr. Do you think that many of the BIG questions have moved to fringe SF and other popular culture venues?
I do think this is a general truth and though I read mountains of dreck, I am occasionally rewarded with profound philosophical problems and insights. One of the things I love about the story is that there are dozens of angles to see it from.
Who is the real animal and who is more human? Is vengeance acceptable? And so on. Thank you for posting this. I was looking for Juan Darien and came across your comments.
As someone who grew up with Kipling, and myself lived in the Amazon while growing up, loved this story since high school and have taught it in Spanish IV classes a number of times. Your observations and notes are very pertinent. Thank you for posting them here.
I am glad to have more to think about with regards to this excellent story. Have you read anything else by Quiroga? All best, Dan. Dan, Do you know if there is a version of Beasts in Collusion online, either in English or in Spanish? I have been bumping around trying to find one and having no luck. You are commenting using your WordPress.
You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Skip to content. Next week some ruminations on utopia eutopias and dystopias —I think. Share this: Twitter Facebook. Like this: Like Loading July 17, at pm. July 18, at am.
Thomas Johnson. July 18, at pm. August 5, at pm. Michael Molen. April 19, at pm. This is one of my favorite stories, and I think you treated it well in your analysis. Todd Garth. August 18, at pm. Sam Gesch. February 16, at pm. Hi Mr. Gesch, yes I have read a few other things by Quiroga. February 17, at pm.
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Review/Theater; 'Juan Darien,' a Tragic Story Told Without Talk
The musical premiered Off-Broadway in in the former St. Clement's Church. The musical, based on a modern fable of the same name by Horacio Quiroga , is set in the jungle in South America, with a jaunty skeletal Death ever present. Its story concerns an orphaned jaguar cub who is miraculously transformed into a human child by the compassion of a woman who has lost her own baby; the boy must then confront the savagery of human civilization. The production employs masked actors and puppets, and the score includes elements of Latin American folk music and the Requiem Mass. Goldenthal collaborated closely with the musical's director, and his romantic partner, Julie Taymor to create a score that would complement their off-beat concept, blending musical styles with a carnival version of a Requiem Mass sung in Latin and Spanish, primal jungle calls, sharp-edged jazz and hints of minimalism. It was well received by critics.
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