One for All, and All for One: Animal Communication and Unity in “The Story of the White Pet”

“The Story of the White Pet, Performed by Mrs. MacTavish” was one tale collected by John Francis Campbell to document Scottish oral traditions. This tale follows the genre elements of many fairy tales: the action progresses quickly, the story ends optimistically, certain lines are repeated, and an omniscient, third-person narrator tells the story.

Although this tale does follow some traits of a fairy tale, it also differs from the genre. Fairy tale characters are often not developed; however, in this tale, the humans are the flat characters, while the more complicated characters are the farm animals. By portraying the animals as both peaceful creatures and violent protectors, MacTavish brings two conflicting modes of description alongside one another. Therefore, this paradoxical portrayal suggests that the animals are more developed characters because they communicate effectively, therefore outsmarting the humans by uniting together.

The animals are sometimes peaceful or violent, which reveals the importance of both traits when protecting the group. To save their lives, the animals run away from the farmer who wants to “kill [them] for Christmas” (303) rather than attacking him. Also, instead of fighting each other, they are peaceful and “went forward” (304) as a group, since the cat does not try to eat the birds, and the dog does not attack the cat.

Although the animals are sometimes peaceful, we also discover that they can be violent protectors. When one of the thieves “returned to look in to see if he could perceive if anyone at all was in the house” (305), the animals attack him to protect their home and themselves. Therefore, the animals are peaceful, in order to unite when escaping from the farmer, or violent, in order to protect their group and safe location.

The paradox—the animals being both peaceable and violent—is shown by the before and after events of the thief returning for the money. The animals act violently towards the thief who returns, but he is not harmed seriously. Although he is neither wounded nor killed, the worst damage is psychological because the thief believes that the animals were humans, vaguely describing each as “a man,” “a big black man,” or “a big man” (305).

However, the readers know that these fierce warriors were just animals all along because we first learn how the animals protect the group and then read the thief’s explanation of what happened. The tale ends, “[The thieves] did not return to seek their lot of money; and the White Pet and his comrades got it to themselves; and it kept them peaceably as long as they lived” (305). The word it seems to refer to the money. The animals keep the money among themselves amiably, perhaps because this newly-acquired money would have no value to any of the animals, since they would not use it anyways.

Because MacTavish emphasizes the word peaceably in the concluding line, it is possible that the thieves, unlike the animals, would not have kept the money peaceably among themselves. Therefore, the animals are more developed characters because we learn what was of true importance to these creatures: communicating with each other in order to stay alive and to protect the group.

Since the animals communicate effectively with one another, they are able to outwit the humans. The animals’ repetitious dialogue (e.g., “Where art thou going” [303–304] is repeated five times) follows the fairy tale tradition. However, the repetitious dialogue also emphasizes the fact that the animals are able to outwit the humans. Leaving separately would have been more advantageous to each animal because if the farmer caught and killed one, perhaps the farmer, having satisfied his appetite, would not chase the others. Additionally, the animals speak honestly, such as when each animal straightforwardly explains that “they were going to kill me” (304). In contrast, the thief exaggerates, saying that a man “thrust ten knives into my hand” (305).

In actuality, the cat struck the man with her claws, but if the claws had been knives, the thief would have been more seriously injured. Furthermore, the thief describes the sounds, such as “GREE-AS-ICH-E” (305), that he hears to the thieves. Although humans do not understand animal language, the animals are able to communicate so they understand each other, regardless of being different species. Since the animals communicate well as a group, they outsmart the thieves who do not support each other.

Because of effective communication, these seemingly simple animals are able to unite together, unlike the humans. The animals speak respectfully to each other; for example, they use the words hail, art, and thou (304). Since these sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent animals elevate each other by their language use, they recognize the significance of all creatures, thus creating a stronger, more cohesive unit. One animal is not better than the other, even if the bull is larger than the cat, or the goose can fly while the dog can only run. By using respectful language, the animals are able to unite their abilities to protect their camaraderie. Another example of the animals using language to band together occurs when the animals come to the house, they say in one shout “GAIRE” (304)—meaning laughter in Gaelic—to scare and defeat the group of thieves. Only one thief, instead of the entire group of thieves, returns to the house later to retrieve the money. If all the thieves had gone, perhaps the animals would have lost. However, the animals are united from start to finish because they use respectful and unified language to create a cohesive group.

The animals, paradoxically peaceful and violent, are better communicators and more developed characters than the humans. Since these animals are able to communicate effectively with one another, they are able to outmaneuver the humans.

Additionally, by uniting as a team of animals that supports and protects each other, they create their own happily ever after, free from human domination. When we see animals consolidate over humans, we as the readers understand that we do not have to be like the human characters but that we should strive to be like the animals, who establish a cordial group because of their communication.


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