Annie Dillard's Living Like Weasels and the Human Freedom
I traveled to Hollins pond not to wonder at life, but to further myself from it. Yet I can learn from a weasel how to live life. Weasels survive in mindlessness, a pure and dignified way of living, unlike the bias and ulterior motives that plague the human world. They live in accordance with nature, dutifully accepting time and death, not trying to control it. They live off of necessity, performing tasks only needed for survival. Humans act quite opposite, seeking to control every aspect and resisting necessity and death, as they view the former as choices, not certainties.
My confrontation with the weasel feels like it was something I was unable to take advantage of. I should’ve struggled for control, refused to let go and forced my way in. I could live like one, mute and oblivious to the workings of the world. Living unable to comprehend time and events, could I survive alone in the mind? Could I live the rest of my life exploring the pond, and live with the carelessness and mindlessness of a weasel? People often limit themselves by choice, unable to realize they can live free. People choose to live without their freedom, but a weasel lives with total control. A weasel lives its life refusing to attack or demand anything other than what’s required. They live in the moment. The choices you make in life should be guided only by your own decisions. This freedom to make choices should never be withheld from you.Death at the end of life is inevitable and inescapable, and it should be welcomed. But even in death, there is satisfaction in leaving.
Dillard describes the ruthlessness and persistence of weasels in the first section of the essay. Dillard uses intense diction to describe the ruthlessness in the bite of the weasel, and further describes the persistence of weasels in their reluctance to let go. In the second section Dillard focuses on her encounter with the Weasel, and her journey leading up to the event. The author uses descriptive language throughout the section as she travels through Hollins pond to find her tree trunk, and eventually leading to the weasel. The third section of the essay focuses on the encounter between Dillard and the weasel, and the connection that formed between the two. She expresses concern over the quality of the weasel’s life, and how it compares to Dillards own. Finally, the fourth section focuses on Dillards self argument over the lack of freedom in society and the wish to live careless and mindless. Dillard voices concern over the constrictions of society and the lack of freedom people live with.
Dillard intends for segment one and two to be in chronological order. Segment one is the preface to section two, which is an introduction to the interaction between Dillard and the weasel. The relationship between section two and three is the continued chronology of the story, as Dillard continues to describe her experience. Segments three and four contain the climax of the essay, as Dillard laments her missed chance. The segments link the broken connection between the two to the reflection on life Dillard makes after her experience with the weasel.
Dillard arranged the essay in its particular order as it forms a logical chronological sequence. The essay would be very different if its order was changed, as its chronology would not be accurate and would likely confuse the reader. In switching sections two and three, the chronological order would be lost, as sections would be missing key details, likely confusing the reader on what may have occurred. It would then be necessary to add missing details to the end or beginning of sections in order to prevent confusion.
Dillard uses short sentences in order to provide interest to the reader and keep their attention. For example, she starts paragraph seven with “The sun had just set.” She then proceeds to provide a detailed description of the area in which Dillard was located and the eventual meeting with the weasel. The short sentence compels the reader to determine the relation between the short sentence and its following sentences. The reader will want to know what follows such an ordinary statement, thus causing them to continue reading the essay.
Dillard asks eight questions throughout the essay, but they are not all similar. The author asks three types of questions: questions meant for the reader, rhetorical questions, and speculative questions she asks herself. She asks the reader, “Could two live that way?”(15) She asks this question in order to engage the reader in thought over the subject matter, as it causes the reader to attempt to analyze and understand the passage. Dillard also uses rhetoric: “Or did the eagle eat what he could reach, gutting the living weasel with his talons before his breast, bending his beak, cleaning the beautiful airborne bones?”(2) The purpose of the rhetoric is to question what the author thinks occurred. Dillard intends for the reader to dwell on the subject and engage in the writing. Finally, Dillard purposefully asks questions to herself: “Can I help if it was a blank?”(11) She does this to provide interest to the reader and point out details.
Dillard also uses reflexive structure in the first encounter with the weasel: “I was looking down at a weasel, who was looking up at me.”(7) Reflexive structure in paragraph seven is intended to foreshadow the connection between Dillard and the weasel. Although both are opposite in stature, the pairs actions seem mirrored, further enforcing the notion that both have a connection.
Dillard repeats opening words and phrases in paragraph 15 as Dillard is in grief after regretting her decision not to join the weasel. Dillard regrets her missed chance, and repeats phrases mourning her lost opportunity. “I could very calmly go wild. I could live two days in the den…”(15) Dillard is repeating the phrase “I could” as she laments the missed possibility of becoming a weasel. Dillard tries to convey the enormous grief after missing out by repeating the same phrase over and over.
Comparisons are often used in paragraph eight as Dillard describes the weasel. The weasel is described as “thin as a curve” This comparison is the first used and uses a simile to describe the slenderness of the weasel when first spotted. The weasel was next described as “a muscled ribbon” This comparison adds to the previous ferociousness and fear inducing reputation described by the author. The next comparison describes the color of the weasel “brown as fruitwood” The comparison implies the camouflage abilities of the weasel, and adds to the fear that this animal is naturally aided to kill. The weasel is further described: ”His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard’s…”Another description that fits the reputation of inducing fear. We continue to see that Dillard is clearly intimidated by the appearance of the weasel. The weasel is also described as “he would have made a good arrowhead…” An arrowhead, typically a weapon of war, adds to the image of a fierce and ruthless animal. The weasel’s eyes are the final comparison: “He had two black eyes I didn’t see, any more than you see a window.” Eyes are regarded as the window to the soul, and the inability to see the eyes of the weasel proves that the weasel is a ruthless and ferocious killing machine. All together, these comparisons illustrate the fear and awe of the creature, as Dillard uses language that provokes thoughts of a beast capable of destruction.
Violence in the passage is mainly focused in the first two paragraphs, as Dillard gives a background description of weasels and their tendency for violence. The author describes the gruesome way in which a weasel kills its prey, and instances in which a weasel refuses to surrender. One instance, in which an attacking eagle attempted to eat a weasel, the weasel fought back: “…found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat.”(2) A weasel refuses to give up, even when it knows defeat is inevitable. In this instance, the weasel latched on to the throat of the eagle, and as it died it continued to hold on. The violent words conjure up images of the brutality and primal instinct of the weasel, and it’s unsophisticated manner in which it kills.
Dillards use of a polysyndeton in paragraph seventeen is to emphasize the positive effects of living with freedom and without limitations. She uses a polysyndeton in the first sentence of paragraph 17: “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go…” Instead of listing the qualities one after the other, separating them adds weight to them and makes it seem like multiple positives occur as a result, instead of one effect occurs.
Dillard employs antithesis as a means of trying to describe a paradox more accurately. In the fifteenth paragraph, Dillard describes her desire to “very calmly go wild.” Being calm and wild are opposites, and generally can not be used together to describe an action. But the use of the antithesis leads the reader to understand that Dillard can calmly undergo the process of going wild. The antithesis then does its part in leading the reader to better understand the confusing description.
Dillard writes this essay in a formal, personal, and direct voice. Throughout the essay she stays formal describing her adventure through the woods, encounter with the weasel, and the background on the weasel. This voice is demonstrated in paragraph 15: “I missed my chance. I should have gone for the throat. I should have lunged for that streak of white…” This passage demonstrates the personal perspective of the writing, and the directness in which the character relays their thoughts to the reader. It also demonstrates the formality of the writing, as there is no humor or satire in the writing. The writing is a personal account of the feelings and thoughts going through Dillards mind.
Dillard claims “we can live any way we want” in paragraph 16. Yet she does not mean people have complete freedom to act deviously without consequence. Actions that harm or negatively affect others rightly have serious penalties that justly punishes offenders. Living without consequences would turn an orderly society into a domain of terror. I believe Dillard wishes to express that there is freedom for people to lead their lives into any direction without restrictions. People have the ability to choose what makes them happy in life without restriction. Overall, I agree with Dillard’s claim. People can take their life in any direction. An instance of this freedom is the path people can take when they graduate high school. People have many options and are free to take any without consequence. You are able to immediately join the workforce, enter into the military, or further your education. There are endless possibilities regarding these pathways, and all give freedom to guide your life in whichever way you want to take it.
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