My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals: Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the mornings, the family eats breakfast outside under the tangerine trees. By the end of the meal Mother, Larry, Leslie, and Margo begin arguing about what each is going to do that day. Gerry wolfs his food down and stays out of the conversation, as he doesn't want any input. When breakfast is over, Gerry joins an excited Roger at the garden gate. Gerry teases Roger that maybe they won't go out today but finally, he opens the gate and away they go.
When Gerry teases Roger, it again shows Gerry treating Roger as a being with feelings and desires all his own. It's convenient for them both that they both love being outside wandering the island, as it allows the two to deepen their friendship and loyalty to each other as they associate with the natural world.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Roger spends all his time with Gerry. They explore the island, Roger looking out for Gerry when he slips or trips and waiting patiently when Gerry finds some animal to watch. They meet many people in the countryside, and Gerry often stops at the old lady Agathi's house. Agathi teaches Gerry folk songs about the river and about love gone both right and wrong.
Here, Roger's behavior towards Gerry shows that he thinks of Gerry similarly to how Gerry thinks of Roger: they're both beings that need to be properly cared for and looked after. This also reinforces how loyal Roger is.
Themes
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Gerry also enjoys visiting the shepherd Yani. Gerry meets Yani for the first time under cypress trees, where he and Roger fling themselves down to escape the heat. As Gerry was beginning to drift off, the sound of Yani's goats' bells woke him. Yani warned Gerry not to fall asleep under cypress trees, since the roots grow into the brains of sleeping people and steal them, and when you wake, you're mad. Yani shot a fierce look at the trees and herded his goats along. After that, Yani often gives Gerry advice to keep him safe in his wanderings.
Yani's story casts the cypress trees as living, sentient beings in their own right, which again shows that the local population is far more connected to nature than even the nature-loving Gerry is. Though Gerry certainly thinks the trees are interesting, he tends to draw a line at anthropomorphizing trees. This shows that while Gerry may have more in common with the Greeks than with his family, there are still major differences.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
The most fascinating person Gerry meets is known as the Rose-Beetle Man. Gerry meets him for the first time as the man is leaving a party and walking on a road, playing a shepherd's pipe. The Rose-Beetle Man's eyes are vacant and he dresses eccentrically: his hat is shapeless but filled with feathers, and his pockets are filled with all manner of oddities. He carries bamboo cages filled with pigeons and chickens, a mysterious sack, and in one hand holds strings securing a number of rose-beetles that buzz around his hat.
Though Gerry never notes how the other locals feel about the Rose-Beetle Man, the fact that he came from a party suggests that he's an accepted part of local culture. His eccentricities again suggest that the culture on Corfu naturally tends towards the more absurd, making a place for eccentric individuals like the Rose-Beetle Man.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
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When the Rose-Beetle Man sees Gerry and Roger, he bows and Roger barks. Gerry asks questions and the man mimes his answers: the beetles are meant as pets, and he whirls the beetles into a buzzing frenzy. The man sings for a moment and then dumps out the contents of his sack, which turns out to be tortoises. Gerry is taken with one tortoise the size of a teacup, and he reasons that the family would gladly embrace such a pet. They barter and when the man accepts Gerry's price, Gerry instructs him to come by the villa the next day for payment. Gerry notes that this doesn't seem strange to him at all.
Here, the fact that it's apparently no big deal for the Rose-Beetle Man to come to the villa for payment illustrates just how different the culture is on Corfu than it is elsewhere. It's worth noting that because Gerry is a child, he may have fewer experiences in more conventional purchasing habits but regardless, the fact that he's so young means that he's far more easily able to accept that this is a perfectly normal way of doing things.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Thrilled with his purchase, Gerry races home. The family quickly names the tortoise Achilles, and Achilles turns out to be intelligent and lovable. As he grows tamer, Achilles learns his name and has the run of the villa. He and Roger both love grapes and they vie for the attention of whomever has grapes, though Achilles's favorite food is strawberries. He becomes nearly hysterical when he sees them and begs shamelessly. Achilles also loves people: he sits with whoever is outside reading, and if someone decides to sunbathe on a rug, he takes it upon himself to climb onto the sunbather's stomach. Eventually, the family complains enough that Gerry has to lock Achilles up when someone sunbathes.
As one of the first more exotic pets, Achilles shows the other Durrells that having wildlife around doesn't have to be terrible: nature and wild animals can be enriching and are just as capable of enjoying human companionship as more "normal" pets like Roger. Further, the way that Gerry anthropomorphizes Achilles shows that Gerry definitely spent time with him observing him and learning what makes him happy. This illustrates Gerry's commitment to providing his animals the best care possible.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
One day, Achilles discovers the garden gate is open and wanders out. The entire family embarks on a search and they find him dead at the bottom of an old, disused well. They bury him under a strawberry plant. Larry gives a funeral address, and Gerry is annoyed that Roger wags his tail throughout the service.
It's worth noting that Achilles' death could've absolutely been prevented. This impresses upon Gerry that it is truly his responsibility to look out for the safety of his pets; they rely on him.
Themes
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Not long after, Gerry acquires a young dove from the Rose-Beetle Man. They name him Quasimodo. Because Quasimodo is raised by humans, he believes he's not a bird and flat-out refuses to fly. He coos for people to lift him up onto tables or chairs, and tries to join the family in all their activities. They eventually have to stop allowing him to join them for walks, as allowing him to walk behind annoys him greatly when he inevitably can't keep up. He insists on sleeping with Margo, and they discover that he loves music. He's especially partial to waltzes and military marches, and will "dance" appropriately to each. One day, Gerry discovers that Quasimodo isn't male at all: he finds eggs under her. Parenthood makes her wild, and she refuses to enter the house ever again.
Here, it's important to recognize that there's no real way to know what exactly Quasimodo thought of himself: Gerry's anthropomorphism provides one possible explanation for his habits, but it may not tell the whole truth. This illustrates that people can absolutely do their best to listen to their animals and interpret what they're trying to say, but it's definitely not an exact science. To this end, it's worth keeping in mind that pet birds overwhelmingly enjoy music and human companionship, even if they don't fly.
Themes
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon