My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals: Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The villa is small and square, surrounded on all sides by complicated gardens filled with all manner of flowers and humming insects. The Durrells love it as soon as they see it, and Spiro jumps into action. He explains that it's better if he takes care of the arrangements so that nobody cheats them. To this end, he takes the family shopping and fronts them money when he learns that their money hasn't come from England yet. He knows everyone on the island, and everyone respects how honest and belligerent he is.
When Gerry describes the natural world surrounding the villa before anything else, it makes it clear to the reader that his true focus is on the natural world rather than the humans that inhabit it. When Spiro steps in to take care of the Durrells, it shows that he understands how difficult such a move can be and that they'll need assistance adjusting.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Spiro is especially adept at dealing with government officials. When he learns that Mother's boxes of linen and other things were confiscated at customs, he angrily promises to "fix thems" tomorrow. The next day, he and Mother approach the customs official as the rest of the family watches. Spiro growls at the man to give Mother her boxes. When the man attempts to inspect one of the heavy trunks, Spiro slams the lid down on the man's fingers, insults him, and as he leaves, reminding the man of a crime he committed (blowing up fish) as a warning to behave.
It will come up later on that the punishment for blowing up fish is harsher than the punishment for murder, which again shows that Greek people value the natural world even in the laws of the island. The law of Corfu, then, presents people living in tandem with nature and creates a social structure that prioritizes preserving nature more than preserving human relations.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Spiro comments on the way home that the customs officials believe they own the islands, and Gerry notes that Spiro was entirely unaware that he acted as if he owned the islands. He becomes an integral part of the family, arranging outings, helping Mother barter, and reporting to her if he sees anything amiss with her children. Mother adores him, and Spiro adores her—Leslie and Larry often pester Spiro by jokingly insulting Mother's parenting abilities. Gerry refers to him as a "great, brown, ugly angel."
Spiro himself is an absurd character, particularly the way that Gerry describes him. This suggests that all of Corfu is somewhat absurd, from the laws to the people and their bathroom habits. When Leslie and Larry pester Spiro, it again shows that even though they're both technically adults, they don't always act particularly grown up.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Margo begins wearing a tiny bathing suit and sunbathing often, which earns her a following of local boys. She brushes Mother off when Mother tries to point out that this might become a problem. Larry, meanwhile, installs himself in his room, surrounded by books, tapping away on his typewriter. One morning, Larry is irritated beyond belief by a donkey that brays at regular intervals, but refuses to move the animal himself. The rest of the family refuses to move it, as it's not bothering them, and Larry accuses Mother of raising selfish children. Finally, Gerry and Mother move the donkey.
The donkey reminds Larry that on Corfu, an island that in 1935 isn't particularly modern (houses don't have electricity, for example), animals that are still used for work are ubiquitous—and being animals, they make noise and behave like animals. The fact that this is so offensive for Larry suggests that he prefers a world that's more walled off and separate from the natural world.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
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Leslie spends his days practicing shooting his revolvers at tin cans from his bedroom window, though Larry and Mother eventually convince him to move this practice away from the house. Mother settles in, makes herself at home in her kitchen, and putters in the garden.
Again, the fact that Mother is an avid gardener suggests that as a whole, she'll be more open and accepting of Gerry's love of animals, given that she spends her time in nature, albeit cultivated nature.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Gerry and Roger spend their time in the garden. Gerry observes tiny spiders, ladybugs, and carpenter bees in the roses. Gerry shares all that he learns with the family, much to their bewilderment. He finds the discovery of an earwig's nest the most exciting, and he makes a sign warning everyone to not disturb the mother earwig and checks her hourly. The earwig's babies hatch during the night, which is a major disappointment. Weeks later he sees an adolescent earwig elsewhere in the garden, and Gerry excuses it for not recognizing him.
As Gerry begins exploring the garden, the novel begins to set him apart from his family by contrasting his enthusiasm with their apparent lack of desire to know anything about the non-human residents of the island. The fact that Gerry anthropomorphizes even the tiny earwigs shows that he truly believes that they're worthy of consideration and have personalities of their own.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
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Gerry also makes friends with the local Greek girls. They ride by on donkeys and offer gifts of grapes or figs. Eventually, Gerry is able to pick out words from the babble and finally, begins to use the words himself. The neighbors are delighted and take it upon themselves to both coach Gerry in his Greek and offer him food when he and Roger pass by. Gradually, the magic of the island takes over the entire family.
It's generally accepted that children have an easier time learning languages than adults do, which suggests here that Gerry's youth isn't a bad thing in the least. His youth means that he'll have an easier time adapting to life on Corfu and immersing himself in the local community.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Related Quotes