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Wild Child, Feral Text: Reading the Human-Animal Borderland


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Fagan, AP 2010 , 'Wild Child, Feral Text: Reading the Human-Animal Borderland', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This thesis is a study of the figure variously known as the “wild child,” “feral child,” or “borderland child” as it appears in six contemporary literary texts. I identify two interrelated strands of inquiry that can be usefully brought to bear on these wild-child texts. First, how can such children, generally lacking in many if not all verbal and written language skills, be adequately represented, and their perspective portrayed, in textual form? Secondly, how has the human/animal boundary been constructed in and through literature, and how may it potentially be deconstructed, through the specific framework of the wild-child narrative?
My thesis examines three pairs of novels. In the first chapter I look at two novels based on the true case of Victor of Aveyron, a wild boy captured from the woods of France at the dawn of the Enlightenment: Mordecai Gerstein’s Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron (1998) and Jill Dawson’s Wild Boy (2003). The two texts examined in the second chapter―Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy (2009) and Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2007)―use details derived from actual contemporary feral-child encounters to create new characters. Urban-dwelling and homeless, these children have more in common, perhaps, with a stray dog than with the mythical figures of Romulus and Remus, or even Victor of Aveyron. In the final chapter, I demonstrate the versatility of the wild-child category by applying it to two characters who do not ostensibly seem to fit within it: Simon in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People (1986) and the eponymous gorilla in Peter Goldsworthy’s Wish (1995). These borderland-children, I argue, work to further worry the edges of the human/animal divide. My theoretical approach draws predominantly from the emerging discipline of Animal Studies. The six texts I study use representations of bodies, body languages, and sensory descriptions that attempt to imagine an alternative to the logocentrism of the human perception of the world. In examining how language works as a theme, a device, and the foundation for evoking the wild-child character, my aim is to identify the ways in which language is used to demarcate, and elevate, humanity from the rest of animal-kind. Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, my thesis also seeks to demonstrate the ways in which fictional imaginings and constructions of wild child characters can work to undermine the human/animal boundary.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Fagan, AP
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2010 the Author.

Additional Information:

Copyright © the Author - to the best of my knowledge and belief
no material previously published or written by another person except where due
acknowledgement is made in the text of the thesis, nor does the thesis contain any
material that infringes copyright

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