Fiction is a time-honored way that human beings explore social issues. Through analogy and imagination, we enjoy speculating about the possibilities of life, human behavior and love. Similarly, ethics have been a great topic for novelists, for it helps people think about tough issues in a way that is realistic, easily understood, and not personally threatening. Many authors have thus approached the issue of the ethics of eating animals (either directly or indirectly) through the medium of the novel. In the first installment of this two-part series, we turn the spotlight on five classic novels that are great examples of animal rights and vegetarian/vegan themes covered masterfully in fiction.
1. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
This Pulitzer Prize winning novelist shocked the world with this exposé of the meat industry through the eyes of character, Jurgis Rudkus. The Jungle explores the exploitation of the working class and animal cruelty in industrial Chicago. Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, sees his life fall apart in a new country, progressively losing his family, his health and his home, forced to perform a series of degrading jobs and seeing others, including children, degraded by a system that destroys his sense of personal integrity. He becomes a labor organizer, a socialist and a vegetarian. Sinclair’s novel led to public outcry and the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Sinclair himself credited the success of his book on the grounds that people did not want to eat “tubercular beef” and that, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” You can read The Jungle online for free at Project Gutenberg.
2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick (1968)
A science fiction novel that became the film “Blade Runner”, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in a futuristic world where everyone is vegetarian. Most species have become extinct as a result of nuclear radiation and those that survive are the subject of human empathy as pets, while robotic models have come to replace the real thing for most people. The issue of what it means to be human is explored through the analogy of the ‘replicants‘ that the main character Deckhard is supposed to exterminate.
3.Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
The famous monster of Shelly’s imagination was actually a gentle soul seeking love, who is rejected by all except a blind man who cannot see how monstrous he appears. Like his creator Shelley, the monster is loathe to harm animals and eats only acorns while on the run from the Scientist Dr Frankenstein, who created him. His goal is to find a human young enough to not judge him on his appearance. Due to his unmanageable emotions and physical strength, the monster sadly kills most people he comes into contact with.
4. ConSentiency by Frank Herbert (1958-1977)
A speculative fiction series by the author of Dune, the ConSentiency series depicts humans and extra-terrestrials on equal terms. The main character, Jorj, is a professional saboteur who’s job it is to slow down the actions of the government through the Bureau of Sabotage. The ConSentiency series depicts a world where most people no longer kill animals for flesh and meat is produced in flesh vats.
5. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
Like many science fiction novels, the Eloi of the utopian future in this classic novel are vegan. Despite this, they are also depicted as lacking in free will and basically factory farmed meat for the underworld dwelling Morlocks. The author describes the predatory nature of the Morlocks as the natural outcome of class struggle.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we cover five fiction novels from contemporary authors that creatively touch upon animal rights/vegan themes using science fiction, horror and humor!
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