Humor Lightens the Darkness

Animal’s People covers immensely dark and tragic subjects, such as the crippling of Animal’s back, the brain damage Ma Franci appears to be suffering from, the existence and plight of the Khã-in-the-Jar, and the overall poor condition of the people and buildings in Khaufpur due to the poison gas incident, yet somehow the novel does not wallow in the despair these subjects would normally elicit.

I think the novel stays away from this pitfall of darkness and depression through humor, specifically humor surrounding Animal’s candid view of these subjects as well as his frequent use of  “bad” language.

The particularly disturbing scene when Animal meets the Khãl-in-the-Jar is balanced with Animal’s sense of humor:

An ugly little monster, his hands are stretched out, he has a wicked look on his face, as if he’s just picked your pocket and is planning to piss on your shoe. Such an expression, I forget my own troubles and start laughing. (Sinha 57)

In this passage Animal gives the fetus almost cartoonish characteristics by describing it as this grotesque, evil thing, but then follows it up with this completely harmless act of peeing on a shoe. This unexpected turn results in a humorous view of the fetus, which is then validated by Animal laughing at this image himself. By discussing such a tragic thing, a horribly malformed human fetus, in a humorous light, the emotional tension in the scene is dispelled. The scene does not become any less moving, the humor just allows the reader to focus on Animal’s message and the true relationship between the Kampani, the poison gas, and the people of Khaufpur rather than a reader’s own personal feelings of guilt or pity.

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2 Responses to Humor Lightens the Darkness

  1. stephenhuschka says:

    Your post is centered on a very interesting theme in this work. The “unexpected” and “humorous” moments in the book no doubt help to diffuse a lot of the tension created by the horrific world Animal inhabits. I almost wonder however, how much his humorous responses are in fact a lack of empathy for others? This would be an interesting dynamic considering his rejection of his own humanity. I feel that animal is predominately motivated by what is going to directly benefit himself. Compassion for others is a quality that is essential to the human experience. Maybe by not demonstrating this quality Sinha is emphasizing Animal’s rejection of his humanity? I agree 100% however that Sinha also uses these moments to carefully play down moments that would otherwise be uncomfortable for the reader, and refocus their attention.

  2. Bri says:

    This would be a great subject for an essay. I think Sinha uses a number of literary devices to force the (probably privileged and Western) reader to relate to the Khaufpuri people — and humor may be one of them. Animal says a lot of rude things because it translates; peeing on shoes and “a dick-scraping slide every inch to the ground” are funny in any language.

    I think slamming us with the night of the disaster so early would have diminished its impact, and Sinha knew that. Bhopal is a world away from us, and prior to reading this, we knew almost nothing about the victims. Humor helps bridge both a cultural and emotional gap — you can laugh with someone, but you always pity them from a distance. Once we’ve grown to relate to these people, the facts of the disaster (and the lack of compensation for it) will be all the more devastating.