My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on My Family and Other Animals can help.

My Family and Other Animals: Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gerry's favorite part of the new villa is the hilly area above the olive groves. There, he can observe ant lions, caterpillars, mantises, and birds. He soon discovers that tortoises also live there. On the first truly hot day of the year, Gerry watches, fascinated, as a tortoise heaves itself out of its hibernation hole in the ground. Soon, the hills are teeming with them. Days later, the males begin to court females. They give out strange cries and when more than one converge on a female, the males prepare to fight.
Again, the fact that so much of Gerry's narration focuses specifically on the wildlife on the hill makes it abundantly clear that the wildlife and their habits are extremely interesting to Gerry and occupy most of his time. The tortoises' presence also dictates where Gerry spends his time, showing again that the natural world guides life on Corfu far more than human events.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
The tortoises' battles are fascinating to watch, not least because the females don't watch. In their frenzy, the males occasionally attack the females, and sometimes, the females end up going off with a male who didn't even fight for them. Gerry and Roger watch the fights and make bets, though Roger proves inept at choosing winners. When a battle ends, Gerry and Roger follow the new couple into the bushes to watch their uninspiring and painfully awkward flirtation.
When Gerry mentions the bets that he and Roger makes, it shows him anthropomorphizing Roger—though in this case, he does it in such a way as to make himself look better. This suggests that Gerry still feels a sense of superiority and power over animals, given that they can't actually speak.
Themes
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Gerry comes to recognize many of the tortoises by sight, particularly one he names Madame Cyclops. She's large and has only one eye, and soon begins accepting Gerry's offers of treats without fear. Though Gerry misses Madame Cyclops' "wedding," he does witness her laying her eggs. He watches her painstakingly dig a hole, lower herself into it, and lay nine eggs. Then, she covers them. Gerry waits until she leaves the area before digging up one egg and carefully reburying the others. He puts it in a glass box by itself and labels it with both Madame Cyclops' name and the tortoise's Latin name.
Gerry's label for the egg illustrates clearly how important it is to him to ascribe names, personalities, and human traits to the animals, even as he tries to be overwhelmingly scientific about them. The label does, however, show that one doesn't need to choose either emotion or science; it's perfectly reasonable to engage with nature in a way that does both.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Over the summer, a string of Larry's friends visit. One of the first is the Armenian poet Zatopec, who talks the entire visit and drinks huge quantities of wine. He pursues the local girls and Lugaretzia with abandon. Finally, he leaves and three artists, Jonquil, Durant, and Michael take his place. Jonquil promptly informs Mother that she's come to work, not have a holiday, and spends the entire visit sleeping in the sun in a bathing suit. Durant, a painter, hopes to find his nerve: he had just begun his masterpiece, an almond orchard in bloom, when on his second day of work, he discovered that a storm blew off all the blossoms. This happened two years ago, but his eyes fill with tears as he tells the tale.
The behaviors and stories of all four of Larry's friends suggest that the novel's sense of absurdity isn't necessarily something unique to the island. Unlike locals like Theodore, however, Larry's friends seem fully unaware of the fact that they're being absurd (in much the same way that Larry is unaware), which again suggests that being able to recognize absurdity for what it is is a cultural standard that seems to exist less frequently in the rest of Europe.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Get the entire My Family and Other Animals LitChart as a printable PDF.
My family and other animals.pdf.medium
Poor Michael wants to paint the island, but it turns out he suffers from asthma and a horse allergy. Not knowing this, Lugaretzia puts a blanket in his room that Gerry used for horseback riding. On Michael's first night, the family wakes to the strange sound of his wheezing. Mother tenderly covers Michael in the horse blanket. He gets worse as Mother, Margo, and Larry argue about what's wrong, and Michael chokes out that he's allergic to cats, lilacs, and horses. Mother finally notices that the blanket is a horse blanket. Michael spends the entire summer recovering with Durant in the sun and never paints at all.
For Michael, the natural world is actually very dangerous. In this case, the fact that he has to actively avoid horses, cats, and lilacs actually reinforces that humans are very much at the mercy of the natural world and must learn to exist within it rather than tame it. In this way, though he engages with nature in a way that's almost opposite from the way that Gerry does, the two have the same kind of respect for the power of the natural world.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
A woman named Melanie also visits. Within five minutes of her arrival she takes her wig off to gain some relief from the heat, much to Gerry's delight. She explains to Mother that she just recovered from erysipelas (a bacterial skin infection) and lost all her hair. However, because Melanie's false teeth fit poorly, she mumbles through her explanation, leading Mother to believe she has a venereal disease. Mother corners Larry about this, insisting that Melanie must go. She finally agrees to have Theodore out to evaluate the situation.
Mother's insistence that Melanie actually be forced to leave because of having an STD shows that Mother is still very much operating within the upper-class logic of England, not the more freewheeling culture at work in Greece. Having Theodore out for this reason indicates that he's a doctor (which he was), showing that adults also don't have to limit their interests to one thing.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Theodore arrives the next day with Zatopec, who drunkenly got on the wrong boat, missed his appointment in Bosnia, and came right back to Corfu. When Melanie is introduced to Theodore, she asks for his advice on her disease. The two discuss treatment options, which incenses Mother—she believes such conversation isn't appropriate for teatime. Later, Theodore explains Melanie's affliction. Mother guiltily is very kind to Melanie for the rest of her stay.
As was the case with the Turk, Gerry's lack of engagement with these events suggests that, though they're interesting to a degree, they're not interesting enough for Gerry to truly engage with and be a part of. 
Themes
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Dinner that night is an extraordinary affair. Gerry listens in on all the conversations about art, literature, and poetry. After dinner, Larry plays the guitar and sings, and Theodore tells another anecdote about Corfu. He explains that once, when the Greek king visited, he was treated to a play. The climax of the play included a battle scene. The actors playing the parts of the losing army were disgruntled at having to "lose" in front of the king, and a real fight broke out onstage. The king later said he was impressed with the realism of the battle scene. When Larry insists the story cannot possibly be true, Theodore proudly says that anything can happen in Corfu.
Though Gerry never says, Theodore was actually Greek. Theodore's pride then can be seen as a kind of local pride in his home culture, as well as a recognition that these kinds of occurrences add richness to life at the time and every time after that when he tells the story. Similarly, the fact that the king apparently accepted the mishap as planned and still found it charming suggests that this is something widespread in Greece, not just confined to Corfu.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Related Quotes