My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals: Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the family makes it through customs, they wind their way through the quay. Larry walks quickly and with a disdainful expression on his face, followed by Gerry, Leslie, Margo, and Mother, who looks harried and annoyed. Roger (the dog) drags Mother to a lamppost to relieve himself as Larry loads the luggage into one horse-drawn cab and engages a second to carry the family. Larry grouses that Roger is a nuisance. Finally, Roger finishes and the family lifts him clumsily into the cab.
Larry's grumbling about Roger suggests that he doesn't think particularly highly of animals in general, even domesticated ones like dogs. However, it's important to recognize that Roger needing to relieve himself is perfectly normal after such a journey, and the fact that Mother is willing to allow him to do so shows that she believes animals should be cared for.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
As the cab moves through town, Roger lets his head hang out of the window. The cab goes past an alley where four local dogs are lying in the sun, and Roger barks loudly at them. The street dogs immediately race after the cab and bark back, and Leslie struggles to keep Roger from leaping out. Soon, two-dozen dogs are chasing the cab, and Larry yells angrily that the family looks ridiculous. Leslie suggests that Larry help, so Larry grabs the driver's whip and cracks it at the dogs. He hits Leslie and then Mother's hat, and Mother tells Larry to be careful.
Roger's personality begins to come through here: he's intensely loyal to his family and will defend them from anything and anyone, even if the interlopers in question aren't actually threats. Mother's tone of voice when she reprimands Larry again suggests that this kind of thing is normal, even though it seems wild to the reader.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Finally, the cab reaches the hotel. Larry seems to enjoy himself as he waves the whip at the street dogs while Mother, Leslie, Gerry, and Margo haul Roger, still snarling, into the hotel. When they're all inside, Mother turns to the manager and informs him of who they are as though nothing is amiss.
Again, the fact that Mother is able to so quickly compose herself and ignore the ridiculous sight of her family suggests that it's not necessarily ridiculous to her—it's a normal occurrence.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
The family all take naps and then congregate downstairs for dinner a while later. Larry is thrilled with Corfu thus far, but Mother tries to seem noncommittal. Leslie is annoyed, as the manager couldn't bring him toilet paper. Margo pipes up helpfully that the toilets all have boxes full of paper. Larry snorts and informs her that the paper in the box is used. Horrified, Margo races back to her room and douses herself in sanitizer, while Mother insists that they must find a house before they all get typhoid.
The misunderstanding here highlights the differences between the English life the Durrells are used to and how life proceeds on Corfu. Again, this illustrates that Corfu is its own world with its own sense of logic. The logic of Corfu, incidentally, seems ridiculous and absurd to the Durrells, which sets them up to either adapt or not.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
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It doesn't help Mother's peace of mind that all afternoon, the family can watch funeral processions to the nearby cemetery out their windows. The processions are ornate, and Gerry decides that this is the best way to die: colorful decorations and satisfyingly upset relatives crying openly. Gerry watches them all afternoon as Mother worries that there's an epidemic in town. This sends Margo into hysterics, and Mother declares that they must find a house in the country immediately.
Gerry's thoughts on the funerals suggest that he'll be more likely to adapt to life on Corfu, given that he already finds the culture interesting. Mother, on the other hand, shows that she's afraid of the culture and has little interest in either understanding it or immersing herself in it, which indicates that she'll have a harder time integrating on the island.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Mr. Beeler, the hotel guide, drives Mother and the Durrell children around the island the next day to look at multiple villas. Mother rejects them all and Mr. Beeler finally asks what's wrong with all the villas. Mother, astonished, says that they don't have bathrooms. Distraught, Mr. Beeler asks why she wants a bathroom when the sea is right there. The next day, Mother decides to hire a car and hunt for a villa with a bathroom herself. Leslie, Larry, Margo, and Gerry are unconvinced they'll find such a thing.
Again, the difference in how the local population and the Durrells think about bathrooms highlights the fact that Corfu isn't just an idyllic version of England. Further, the fact that the Grecian population bathe in the sea suggests that they are culturally more connected to the natural world than the English are.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the town square, the taxi drivers converge on the Durrells and loudly fight for their business. Gerry explains that it was terrifying, but the drivers' altercation was actually mild by Greek standards. As Mother becomes more flustered and Leslie angrier, a loud voice, speaking English, booms over the crowd. It belongs to a short, hammy man in an old Dodge who introduces himself as Spiro. He explains that he knows of a villa with a bathroom, and the family climbs into the Dodge.
When Gerry explains and shows through his narration that he eventually understood what was going on in the town square, it proves that he did eventually adapt to life on the island. However, understanding in hindsight doesn't take away from the terror they feel in the present, which shows that these different cultural customs can be very difficult to deal with.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
As Spiro drives, he tells the Durrells that the English always want bathrooms. He also tells them that he used to live in Chicago, where he learned English. He insists if he weren't Greek, he'd be English. He drives past olive groves and, finally, stops at the top of a hill. Spiro points to a pink villa overlooking the sea.
Spiro manages to bridge the gap between Greek and English culture simply by virtue of speaking English. This shows that language is one of the most effective ways of assimilating into a culture.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon