My Family and Other Animals

by

Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals: Part 3, Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the bay near the villa is an area known as the Chessboard Fields. Gerry enjoys hunting for aquatic life there, especially because his friends own the surrounding fields and he's always guaranteed food and gossip. One afternoon, Gerry takes the dogs to the Chessboard Fields to try to capture Old Plop, an old terrapin who has eluded him for a month.
When Gerry continues to bring up new places around the island to explore, it illustrates how, when one looks at the world the way that he does, the wonder is simply never-ending. Because he finds all of the island enchanting, he never runs out of things to look at.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Just as Gerry reaches Old Plop's favorite place at the water's edge, Roger, Widdle, and Puke take off after a lizard. Old Plop isn't there, so Gerry waits for the dogs until he hears them barking like they found something. Gerry pursues them and finds them gathered around a pair of big water snakes coiled in the grass. This is a thrilling find. One snake races into the water, and Gerry notes that it seems as though the snake buried itself in the mud. He captures the one in front of him easily and then decides to wade into the mud, feel for the snake, and pounce when he finds it.
Though Gerry doesn't say so until later, it's worth noting that these snakes are nonpoisonous. Again, the fact that Gerry knows this for sure and is able to tailor his attack accordingly shows that he uses what he knows about animals and how they move through the world to his advantage when he goes about capturing them. This also means that once he has the snakes, he'll have more tools to care for them.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Gerry wades into the mud towards where he saw the snake disappear. Suddenly, he feels the snake underfoot and grabs for it. The snake resurfaces a yard away, and Gerry leaps and manages to snag it. When he turns back to shore, Gerry realizes there's a man (Kosti) watching him with the dogs. Gerry assumes he's a fisherman from down the coast and greets him politely before wrangling the snake into the basket.
Gerry's assumption about Kosti suggests that Gerry is very used to encountering fishermen interested in what he's doing; again, this is something that illustrates how integrated Gerry is on the island, as this isn't something that surprises him.
Themes
Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Gerry pulls out his grapes and shares them with Kosti. They eat silently and only then does Kosti ask about Gerry's family. Instead of the usual line of interrogation, he just asks if Gerry is a foreigner. Gerry gathers his things and politely asks Kosti where he's headed. Kosti is headed to the sea as well, so they walk together. Gerry asks Kosti where he's from and is perplexed when Kosti says he lives on Vido, the island where convicts live. Kosti confirms he's a convict and explains that trustworthy prisoners are allowed to sail home on weekends. Gerry doesn't find this strange at all, as anything can happen in Corfu.
Here, when Gerry accepts Kosti's explanation without finding it strange in the least, it shows again that Gerry now behaves very much like a local and accepts these absurd practices as normal. Further, this only makes Kosti more interesting, which adds more credence to the novel's implication that accepting absurdity as a good and normal thing makes life more fun and fulfilling.
Themes
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At the coast, Gerry sees a huge gull tied to Kosti's boat. Entranced, Gerry reaches out to pet the bird, and it indignantly allows Gerry to touch him. Kosti is surprised; he explains the bird usually bites when touched. Gerry buries his fingers in the gull's feathers and scratches it, and the bird looks dreamy. Kosti explains he found the gull on the Albanian coast the year before. The bird was cute then, but is a "great duck" that bites now.
The discrepancies between how the gull acts with Gerry and how Kosti describes it suggest that possibly, Kosti doesn't care for the bird in a way that encourages him to be accepting of human contact. This is especially likely since the bird clearly seems to enjoy the attention.
Themes
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Kosti and Gerry eat cockles in the boat and Gerry asks if Kosti could get him a baby gull the following spring. Kosti is surprised and offers Gerry his own gull. Gerry is shocked that Kosti would give away such a magnificent bird, but Kosti explains he can't feed him well enough and nobody likes him. Gerry hastily prepares to leave before Kosti can change his mind. As Kosti tucks the bird under Gerry's arm, he says that the bird's name is Alecko. Before Gerry leaves, he asks why Kosti is in jail. Kosti answers that he killed his wife.
Gerry's youth shines through in this exchange—Gerry's awe at Alecko completely overshadows everything Kosti says about Alecko that suggests he won't be a nice or easy pet. This suggests that in some cases, Gerry may have an overblown sense of his own ability to form friendships and good relationships with animals.
Themes
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Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Though Alecko feels light at first, he soon becomes dead weight. Gerry rests under a fig tree and then tries to pick Alecko up to resume their journey. Alecko has no interest in moving and when Gerry persists, Alecko bites him, drawing blood. Gerry angrily throws his butterfly net over Alecko, ties his beak shut, and wraps him in his shirt. Gerry is thoroughly angry by the time he gets home.
When Alecko finally proves that he's not exactly a nice bird, it confirms that Gerry may have acted too quickly and too emotionally when he accepted Alecko. Now, Gerry will have to figure out how to deal with a critter so uninterested in being cared for, which will put Gerry's animal keeping skills to the test.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Friendship and the Care of Animals Theme Icon
Gerry puts Alecko on the floor of the living room and is annoyed when Mother and Margo think that Alecko is an eagle. Alecko ferociously makes noise as Gerry tries to untie his beak, which brings Leslie and Larry downstairs. Leslie is intrigued, but Larry is terrified and believes Alecko is an unlucky albatross. As Alecko looks at Larry, Larry yelps that Alecko is attacking him. He refuses to listen to anyone's reassurances that Alecko isn't doing anything, and he and Mother argue about which bird species are unlucky. Mother insists Alecko seems very tame.
Larry's unwillingness to listen to the family's resident bird expert shows just how highly he values his own intellect and, on the other hand, how little he thinks of Gerry's hard-earned knowledge. This falls in line with Larry's general belief that the outdoors are out to get him and destroy his life as he knows it, a belief that stems from his desire to control the natural world and consume it when it suits him.
Themes
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Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Theme Icon
Dodo finally notices Alecko and curiously approaches him. It's sheer luck that she turns her head, as Alecko snaps at her and narrowly misses her nose. He does hit the side of her head, which causes Dodo's hip to pop out. She begins screaming and Alecko screams with her. When everyone finally calms down, Gerry tethers Alecko on the veranda and sets about dividing the Magenpies' cage.
This altercation indicates that the entire family will have to work much harder to properly care for their animals now that Alecko is part of the family, given that he's willing to bite both humans and other animals.
Themes
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At dinner that night, Larry again insists that Alecko is an albatross, is bad luck, and will bring the family to ruin. Gerry explains how he got Alecko and leaves out that he also captured snakes, as Leslie hates snakes. Mother is aghast that Kosti is a convict and killed his wife, but Leslie explains that in Greece, there is no death penalty: a murderer gets three years in prison, while someone caught blowing up fish serves five years. Finally, Gerry convinces Mother to allow him to go fishing with Kosti, provided Leslie meets him.
As dramatic as Larry is here, the events of the next chapter reveal that he's also not entirely wrong. This shows that even though Gerry would like to think that the natural world is his for the taking and for the exploring, there are indeed consequences to trying to bring wild animals into his family's home. They are still wild animals, even if they're caged.
Themes
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Absurdity and Storytelling Theme Icon
Gerry invites Kosti for tea, and Mother forgets the few Greek words she knows in his presence. Gerry translates for them as they sit on the veranda and when Kosti leaves, Mother remarks that he didn't seem at all like a murderer. Larry insists Kosti totally acts like a murderer, since he gave Gerry an albatross.
The fact that, after nearly five years, Mother knows only a few words of Greek sheds a light on how isolated Mother might feel on Corfu. This shows that learning the language is one of the most effective ways to feel at home.
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