Thursday, December 31, 2009

That's Bull!

I used to be a vegetarian. I have pictures of endangered dolphins and whales decorating the walls of my office. My make-up was not tested on animals. I am a card-carrying member of PETA. (Okay, I get their monthly magazine for free – but I don’t throw it out; I recycle it.) All of my animal instincts made me defensive as I read Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska, winner of the 1965 Newbery Medal, the story of a Manolo Olivar, a young man who lives in the shadow of his father, a famous bullfighter who died in the arena. In order to prove himself as a man, he must confront and kill a bull, but he has no dreams of fame and blood. Instead, he wants to fight on the side of life and become a doctor. Manola must find the courage to find his own path in a community who only sees him as his father’s son. The rite of passage of killing a bull seems both profound and unnecessary, and it is difficult to tell where Wojciechowska stands on the subject of animal cruelty. On one hand, murdering bulls seems honorable since “that’s how he’d choose his death if he had a chance to choose, in hot blood and not in a miserable slaughterhouse” (27). Apparently, the bravery of bulls prevents them from feeling the pain of death because “by the time it begins to hurt, he will no longer be able to feel anything” (34). At the same time, Wojciechowska shows the wasted lives of bullfighters who pursue the sport to their detriment. Healthy men are gored to death by their single-minded concept of honor. In the end, Manola makes his own choice to give up the honor of the fight to his friend, Juan, who has the aficion, the passion for bullfighting. Yet, Manola still sees “much beauty in the sight of the yellow sand” of the arena, even as he leaves it to study medicine. Wojciechowska sees beauty in the dance of life and death, when it is actually murder masquerading as entertainment. While she offers both perspectives, it is clear that she supports the lifestyle of bullfighters, and for that, this book is tainted for me, along with L'OrĂ©al and Suave.

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