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 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One of Gerry's favorite places is the crumbling wall that surrounds the garden. It's plastered brick, though the plaster is cracked and moss grows over the whole thing. He spends hours watching the different creatures that stalk along the wall. Gerry is especially entranced by the scorpions that live under the loose plaster. He finds them charming, unassuming, and mostly safe, assuming he doesn't touch them. He even observes bits of their courtship rituals, which they undertake at night. The family forbids Gerry from keeping a colony in the house much to his displeasure, as that would allow him to see all of their courtship.
In comparison to Gerry's other animal interests (doves, tortoises, dogs), scorpions are much scarier and working with them poses risks far greater than any of his other pets thus far. Despite this, Gerry's interest in them and the way he characterizes them as charming and unassuming shows that Gerry understands that creatures like scorpions aren't dangerous assuming one deals with them respectfully and properly.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One day, Gerry finds a female scorpion covered in a mass of tiny babies. He decides he must capture her so he can watch the babies grow up, so he traps her in a matchbox and heads for the villa. He arrives at lunchtime, places the box on the mantel, and goes to lunch, his new catch entirely forgotten. When Larry is finished eating, he goes in search of cigarettes and matches and returns to the table. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and unsuspectingly opens the matchbox. The annoyed scorpion darts onto his hand, and things go downhill from there. Larry screams and flings the scorpion onto the table, scattering babies everywhere. Roger begins barking wildly and bites Lugaretzia, while Leslie and Margo scream. The scorpions hide under plates and cutlery.
Gerry's forgetfulness here points to the fact that as mature as he seems at times, he's still a child. Forgetting the scorpion in a matchbox also reminds the reader that Gerry has a lot to learn about animal husbandry, as that's objectively not a great place to keep animals long-term. All in all, this incident makes it very clear that as good as Gerry's intentions are, he has a long way to go—and further, that his family will suffer the consequences of these mistakes as he learns.
Themes
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Gerry convinces his family to not kill the scorpions and spends the next half hour collecting the babies. He reluctantly carries the mother back outside and releases her onto the wall. Larry is terrified of matchboxes after this, and Mother decides that it's time for Gerry to receive more education. She engages the Belgian consul to tutor Gerry in French.
The kneejerk reactions of Gerry's family members clearly show that even though Mother is possibly more willing to humor Gerry, he has no allies when it comes to animals the others consider dangerous.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
For their first lesson, the Belgian consul asks Gerry to read from a French book. After Gerry reads a few words, the Belgian consul stiffens, exclaims something, and pulls out an air rifle. Gerry watches, perplexed and a little afraid, as the consul loads the rifle, crouches by the window, and fires at something. After the consul shoots, Gerry notices tears in his eyes, but he asks Gerry to finish his reading.
The fact that the Belgian consul seems even more eccentric than the locals again shows that absurdity and eccentricity aren't unique to Corfu; instead, the way that the locals handle absurdity and eccentricity is what's unique to Corfu. The fact that Gerry accepts the consul's strangeness shows he's becoming more like a local.
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
It takes Gerry a week to discover that the Belgian consul is shooting the starving and sickly cats that breed unchecked in his neighborhood. He's a great cat lover and can't stand to see the strays looking so poorly. Gerry recognizes he's doing a great service for the cats and after each shot, he and the consul observe a moment of silence.
By putting the cats out of their misery, the Belgian consul teaches Gerry an important lesson about how to care for animals responsibly: namely, that it can be a kindness to kill them when they're suffering.
Themes
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The Belgian consul believes that Mother speaks French and tries to engage her in conversation whenever he sees her. She does her best to avoid him, and Gerry believes that the consul never discovers that Mother's only word of French is "oui." The "conversations" are nerve-wracking for her, and Gerry, Larry, Leslie, and Margo sometimes whisper to her that the consul is coming just to watch her tear off down the street.
When Mother tries to avoid the consul, it suggests that though she finds education and French specifically important, both are nevertheless things that make her uncomfortable. Though Gerry positions Mother as absolutely an adult, this opens up the possibility that Mother herself isn't as well-educated as she wants her children to be.
Themes
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Theodore comes every Thursday afternoon and stays until evening. Theodore's choice to come on Thursdays is purposeful: the seaplane from Athens lands on Thursdays in a bay not far from the Durrells' villa, and watching it land is something that Theodore greatly enjoys. When they hear it coming, Mother tortures Theodore for a few minutes before inviting him to the attic to watch.
Theodore's obsession with the seaplane is something that concretely shows that he has certainly maintained a childish sense of wonder and curiosity well into adulthood, showing again that adulthood doesn't have to mean forsaking positive qualities associated with childhood.
Themes
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
On these Thursday afternoons, Theodore and Gerry go out with Roger to collect specimens. Theodore seems to know everything, but he teaches Gerry in such a way as to make Gerry feel as though he's simply being reminded of facts he forgot. Theodore is especially knowledgeable about aquatic life and tells Gerry about caddis fly larvae, which build shells out of whatever they can find as they wander along the bottom of ponds. On the subject of building, Theodore tells Gerry about a friend who decided to add another story to his house and threw a party once the construction was over. At the party, he discovered he neglected to add stairs—he and the workmen had been exclusively using the scaffolding and never noticed.
Though Theodore is never an official tutor for Gerry, the things that Gerry learns from him become some of the most important and useful things Gerry learns throughout his entire stay on Corfu. This shows that education doesn't always need to take the form of official tutors like George or the Belgian consul; learning can happen organically and spontaneously as it does here. Regardless, it still points Gerry towards maturity.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon