Isolation from Reality in “Blu’s Hanging” using Animals as Symbolism

Growing up, older members of my family who are native to Puerto Rico, particularly my grandparents on both of my parents’ sides, encouraged me to escape sadness and negativity by turning to religion for comfort. I became aware later in my childhood that the ideals I was taught were not true for all people, and people from different places believe in different entities and  symbols that provide them with comfort the way my beliefs do. These differences are what make people unique, and the ways their beliefs affect the way they live almost dictate whether or not they will live a stressful or stress-free life.

As I was reading “Blu’s Hanging”, I found that the story was abundant with symbolism that was unfamiliar to me, particularly because of how counterintuitive it seemed. For example, many people have been taught that crossing paths with a black cat is bad luck, where as black cats play a vital role in minimizing sadness. It also became apparent that, when Hoppy Creetat and Ka-san were brought into the household, life for the family became more bearable an, at times, fun.

In addition, there are instances when  the animals act as extensions of the Ogata family, while other times the animals are presented as spiritual guides that contain wisdom that will release the family from sadness, such as the dog’s tears and the colors of the cats. The animals of the family have always, in some way, affected the emotional state of each character in some way that allows them to escape from the disenchanting occurrences of their daily lives. Such apparent symbolism inspired me to research more heavily on the topic.

Questions that will encourage further clarification of my main points in my essay are:

1. What makes the presence of birds important? Do animals, other than cats and dogs, play a significant enough role to mention in conjunction with the greatest symbolic animals of the text?

2. Why is it important that a black dog can be substituted for a black cat when the latter is absent in the Ogata family’s lives? What can this signify?

3. Does their living situation affect how strongly they believe in the symbolic representation of the animals? How would their experience with animals be different if they were financially better off than they are in the story?

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14 responses to “Isolation from Reality in “Blu’s Hanging” using Animals as Symbolism

  1. aeernst

    I agree that the symbolism in Blu’s Hanging is sometimes very different that what we are accustomed to, but I think that because of these differences it makes us really think about what these symbols really mean. I think it would be really helpful to maybe focus a little more on all they ways that the Ogata children are symbolized by different animals and what that symbolism means, and consider:
    4) Why is it significant that so many parallels can be drawn between different animals and the Ogata children?

  2. smboehm

    I like your topic and I think it’s interesting to consider how the animals are used in the texts. To help further your research, I think it would also be interesting to look at the purpose of the decaying and sick dogs in the story.

    5) What do you think the dogs symbolize in the story? Why do you feel that the children are so attached to them? Can there be an parallels drawn between the dogs and characters in the story?

  3. vrosengrant20

    This is an interesting topic and I recommend doing some research on the Japanese culture and its relation to animals. I also like how you remembered about the birds in the novel which play an important part, especially the canary at the Reyes house. You might also want to take into account the neglected dogs owned by Kuro-chan and Mrs. Ikeda. You can expand on that topic with:
    6.) Would the animals represent something different if they were healthy and what does their condition say about their owners?

  4. siegvald

    I think that this is a very concise topic to explore and you have a very clear idea of what you want to say. I liked your comment about religion being either “stressful” or “stress-free.” 7. Perhaps you could develop the religion/spirituality topic further in connection with the children finding release or comfort in the animals as opposed to finding comfort in other religious symbols.

  5. stperry1

    I think that exploring the different religious and spiritual symbolisms in the story is an excellent topic for your paper. The different ways that spirituality and ritual permeate the story are very interesting and, I’m assuming, foreign to most people who encounter the story. I know that I was definitely surprised by the different rituals, however, that only made me more interested in figuring them out. I would explore the importance of these rituals.
    8) How would the story have functioned without the spiritual rituals and the spirituality of the animals? Would the message have been as clear?

  6. Samantha Cooke

    Many early civilizations worshipped animals or gods with animal characteristics. The animals in Blu’s Hanging are given a sort of mystical quality.

    9. Is there a spiritual association assigned to the animals? What does this say about or how is it used for the characters that abuse them?

  7. I think you have a good idea using the symbolism within the novel. However I am slightly confused if you are trying to use these animal symbols to parallel religion or if you were simply showing how the function as a form of comfort (as religion does) for people?
    #10 How does the color of the animals affect their symbolism? For example the color black usually symbolizes what?

  8. I agree with the comment before mine that I am slightly confused about what you will be arguing in your paper. Remember that this paper needs to be an argument. Are you exploring religious spirituality in the text or animal symbolism? Or perhaps are you exploring how animals are made religious in the text? This needs to be made a little more clear in your paper. You may want to research Buddhist religion since that is the religion of the family.
    11. The children in the book seem to identify with different animals. For example, Blu calls himself Flier Canary, Ivah has her cats, and Maisie has Kasan.How are these different animals portrayed in Japanese and Buddhist culture?

  9. autumncassidy

    I am likewise confused on how you will be approaching this argument, although I like your topic very much. Will you be adding the personal element that you outlined, or will it be strictly in correlation to the novel and its symbolism? I also wonder if it would be beneficial for you to make the connection between the two contradicting aspects of animal encounters in the novel: although animals are given a mystical and spiritual quality, they are what temporally ground the children to the world and their experiences, creating a physical attachment much like the ever-present rope imagery of the text .

  10. looloo14

    The animals act as a comfort for the three siblings in the story. Both Hoppy Creetat and Ka-San come in to their lives after the death of their mother. Often, Maisie calls Ka-Sun “Mama.” Hoppy Creetat has three kittens who each seem to symbolize the siblings.
    13. Why do you think Poppy does not have an animal that symbolizes him? Do you think it could suggest anything about his relationship with his kids?

  11. I think question 3 would be good to examine for your paper. I felt like their belief in the spiritual ramifications of these animals amplified just how young they are. I do not think it is just the fact that their poor that strengthens this belief, but also all their emotional hardships, like the death of their mother and their insecurities.

    14. Domesticated animals are defenseless from humanity, and there is this parallel between the children with the animals. Does this mean the children are defenseless?

  12. Animals are symbols in “Blu’s Hanging” and I do think your topic of isolation from reality and the use of animals is interesting. Black cats have always been symbolized as “bad luck” but many people probably do not know they also “minimize sadness”. This is a good point you brought forth and I do think you’re on a good start with your paper. I asked myself:
    15.) Do you think people may sometimes symbolize animals to provide them with comfort? Such as old ladies living alone who have a lot of cats?

  13. ashleighbarraca

    One of the reasons I found Blu’s Hanging so difficult to read (despite how engrossing it was!) was that the animal cruelty was so visceral. I suppose with so much of that happening, I forgot about the happy moments with Hoppy Creetat and Kasan! I definitely think that you should cover the animal abuse, though. 16) Although none of the three main children are cruel to animals, many of the other characters are. What does this symbolically say about Ivah, Blu, and Maisie?

  14. I like your topic very much, and I think it’s great that you’re going to be looking at animals as symbolism, because there was a whole lot throughout this book.

    17) What do the animals themselves symbolize in the story? Are they a source of comfort for the characters? What does it mean in the book when other people are torturing the animals?

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