My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals: Part 3, Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the Magenpies are confined, they take it upon themselves to learn English and Greek. They learn to call every member of the family by name and torture Spiro by yelling for him after he drives away. They also learn to call the dogs and confuse them to no end, and most unfortunately, they learn to mimic the sound the maid makes when she calls the chickens for food. This drives the poor hens nearly mad. The Magenpies often converse with Roger and play tricks on Widdle and Puke. They're perplexed, however, when Mother comes home with a strange looking dog.
Here, the Magenpies show that even if they are wild animals, they're more than capable of integrating into the human world now that they're unable to satisfy their natural curiosity. Though Larry certainly wouldn't admit it, this suggests that there are consequences to bringing such intelligent animals into a home and not allowing them to behave like wild animals.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
The new dog, Dodo, is a female Dandy Dinmont terrier. She vomits in the car the entire way home and when she arrives, everyone insults her strange appearance, name, and sex. Larry is especially vicious, but Mother decides to keep Dodo anyway. The family soon discovers that Dodo's hip dislocates with little or no provocation at the most inopportune times. When this happens, Dodo shrieks in pain until someone manages to put her hip back in, after which she falls asleep.
It's worth noting that Dodo, a purebred dog whose breed was carefully created by humans, proves to be the most trying of all the Durrells' animals. Dodo then stands as a cautionary tale for what can happen when humans have such a hand in shaping he natural world, given that Gerry implies that many of Dodo's faults are associated with her breed.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Dodo also proves fairly unintelligent. She becomes extremely possessive of Mother, even following Mother across the room to fetch a book or a cigarette. She won't allow Mother in the bathroom unattended and if Mother locks her out, Dodo howls and throws herself at the door. Roger, Widdle, and Puke initially just tolerate Dodo, as she's too small to play with them. However, they soon discover that she comes into season regularly, which makes her immensely popular with the Durrells' dogs as well as the local strays. Dodo is afraid of all her suitors. At one point, Mother inadvertently locks Dodo up with Puke, and Dodo gives birth to a single puppy.
Notice that Mother is the only person thus far who Gerry notes uses the indoor bathrooms with any regularity. This suggests that even if her children have begun following the Greek custom of using the sea, Mother has yet to decide to drop her English customs. Further, Dodo's horror that Mother wants to lock herself in the bathroom does suggest that there may be something to gain by abandoning the custom, even if it's only just Dodo's peace of mind.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
The puppy proves a problem for Dodo, as she's torn between sitting with it and following Mother. Dodo tries to carry her puppy everywhere and, finally, Mother engages the maid's daughter Sophia to carry the puppy around on a pillow. Every evening, Mother takes the dogs for a walk and the rest of the family finds this quite amusing. They watch her walk off with Roger, Widdle, and Puke ahead, followed by Dodo, Sophia, and the puppy. Larry teases Mother incessantly about looking like a circus.
The way that Mother problem-solves Dodo's dilemma shows that, like Gerry, she cares deeply for the animals in her care and wants them to be as comfortable as possible. Further, she's willing to go to ridiculous lengths when it's for the sake of the animals. Again, though Gerry's interests tend to be more exotic than Mother's, this suggests they're not so different.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
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There's a lake in northern Corfu where the Durrells spend time often. They plan on heading up when the lilies are in bloom, and Mother insists they must go by boat so that Dodo doesn't vomit in the car. Leslie asks why Dodo won't be sick in the boat, to which Mother explains that people who are carsick never get seasick. Larry consults Theodore on the matter, but all Theodore can say is that he's never carsick but is always seasick. Regardless, a landslide means that they must all go by boat.
Again, Mother's insistence on doing what's best for Dodo (even at the risk of doing something that's decidedly not great for Theodore) shows that she takes her responsibility to care for her animals very seriously. The fact that the family decides to visit the lake to see the lilies shows that they do enjoy the natural world for its splendor, just not the more difficult parts.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
The family attaches the Bootle-Bumtrinket to the Sea Cow to tow it, and Mother, Theodore, Sophia, and the dogs ride behind. This, however, is horrible for those passengers: the wake from the Sea Cow makes the Bootle-Bumtrinket extremely rough. When those in the Sea Cow finally hear the cries from behind, everyone in the Bootle-Bumtrinket is sick. They trade out places and finally reach the lake.
The fate of those in the Bootle-Bumtrinket shows that the natural world can be especially destructive when combined with manmade elements, such as a boat. This suggests that one isn't necessarily better or worse than they other; nature and the manmade world can work together in unexpected ways.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
At the lake, Leslie, Gerry, and Theodore divide the lake in half so Gerry and Theodore can collect specimens without fear of being shot by Leslie. Everyone returns to the lake for lunch, which is a lavish affair. A robin entertains the family by singing and puffing out his chest, which Mother finds extremely charming. Theodore suggests the robin looked like an opera singer and begins a story about the last opera performed in Corfu. In the final act, the heroine was supposed to throw herself off a balcony. On the first night, the stagehands neglected to give her a soft landing and on the second, they gave her so many mattresses, she bounced several times. The audience was perplexed.
As with Theodore's other stories, he positions this anecdote as being entirely true and entirely contingent on the culture of Corfu to happen in the first place. Though the audience is perplexed, Theodore evidently takes great joy in relaying the story. This again shows that in Corfu, people generally believe that instances like this add color and flavor to life and should be thought of as meaningful additions to the world, rather than errant coincidences to be avoided.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
After tea, Theodore and Gerry return to the water until night falls. Spiro cooks fish and finally, when the moon is high, everyone piles back into the boats to head home. Mother declares that the lake is so beautiful, she'd like to be buried there.
Mother's desire to be buried here shows that she does feel a connection to the natural world. This again suggests that Mother's thoughts on the natural world align more with Gerry's than he gives her credit for.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon