As the youngest Durrell child by nearly a decade, ten-year-old Gerry has both a unique perspective on life compared to the rest of his family and unique opportunities that arise because of his age. He sees the world around him through a distinctly childish lens—he's curious, often a little naïve, and often absorbed in his own world—though he also craves acceptance and friendship with the adults around him. Particularly as Mother makes attempts to hire tutors to educate Gerry, Gerry begins to parse out what it means to be a child versus an adult, and how one goes about making that change in a fulfilling way.
Although the novel largely focuses on the differences between adults and children, Gerry doesn't truly come of age over the course of the novel; he remains a child in his own eyes and in the eyes of his family members throughout. Further, the reason that Gerry isn't considered to have come of age yet by the end of the novel mostly has to do with the fact that he hasn't yet completed his education: as his final tutor, Kralefsky, states, Gerry must go to Europe to finish his education. This shows that, per the Durrells' understanding of the differences between adulthood and childhood, the most important signifier of maturity is education. Gerry himself solidifies this idea when he suggests to Mother that he simply not complete his education. He proposes that doing so would allow him to maintain a sense of curiosity about all things that, in his understanding, adults grow out of when they complete their education and graduate into adulthood. Gerry, essentially, associates unbridled curiosity exclusively with childhood and considers traditional education a threat to such childlike wonder.
However, this youthful view fails to consider the multiple adults in Gerry's life who maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity, mostly because they practice science—something that requires curiosity coupled with a thorough background in research, record keeping, and other guiding tenets of science, which Gerry associates with adulthood and are the product of education. The scientist Dr. Theodore Stephanides becomes one of Gerry's closest friends and mentors during the Durrells' time in Corfu. Gerry finds Theodore fascinating as he is undeniably an adult, but he also treats Gerry as a full person in his own right and behaves in ways that Gerry identifies as being somewhat childish or mischievous. Kralefsky also leads a similarly fascinating life as an aviculturist, even as he performs distinctly adult tasks, such as caring for his aging mother and drilling Gerry on his French. Theodore in particular functions as proof that one doesn't have to become boring when one grows up, as Gerry seems to believe is the case: Theodore seems to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, and most of what he does is scientific in nature—and therefore, something that Gerry deems interesting.
Ultimately, My Family and Other Animals makes the case that by discovering one's passion and following it, one never has to truly grow up. Similarly, even though the book is a highly exaggerated account of the time the Durrells actually did spend in Corfu, the fact that Gerry grew up to be a renowned zookeeper, scientist, and conservationist suggests that he does eventually follow the examples of his mentors and combine childish curiosity, adult knowledge, and education to fulfill his childhood dreams and achieve a happy adulthood.
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education ThemeTracker
Childhood, Adulthood, and Education Quotes in My Family and Other Animals
The notice read: "BEWAR—EARWIG NEST—QUIAT PLESE." It was only remarkable in that the two correctly spelled words were biological ones.
As the days passed, I came gradually to understand them. What had at first been a confused babble became a series of recognizable separate sounds. Then, suddenly, these took on meaning, and slowly and haltingly I started to use them myself; then I took my newly acquired words and strung them into ungrammatical and stumbling sentences. Our neighbors were delighted, as though I had conferred some delicate compliment by trying to learn their language.
"He appears to have only one interest," said Larry bitterly, "and that's this awful urge to fill things with animal life. I don't think he ought to be encouraged in that. Life is fraught with danger as it is. I went to light a cigarette only this morning and a damn great bumblebee flew out of the box."
From my point of view, however, the most important thing was that we devoted some of our time to natural history, and George meticulously and carefully taught me how to observe and how to note down observations in a diary. At once my enthusiastic but haphazard interest in nature became focused, for I found that by writing things down I could learn and remember much more.
First, since he was obviously a scientist of considerable repute (and I could have told this by his beard), he was to me a person of great importance. In fact he was the only person I had met until now who seemed to share my enthusiasm for zoology. Secondly, I was extremely flattered to find that he treated me and talked to me exactly as though I were his own age.
"A most insanitary procedure," said Mother, "more likely to spread disease than cure it. I dread to think what would have caught if we'd really kissed his feet."
"But I kissed his feet," said Margo, surprised.
I toyed with the idea that it may have found itself without a pair of clean wing-cases to put on that morning and had to borrow its younger brother's pair, but I eventually decided that this idea, however enchanting, could not be described as scientific.
He was, in fact, performing a very necessary and humane service, as anyone who had seen the cats would agree. So my lessons in French were being continuously interrupted while the consul leaped to the window to send yet another cat to a happier hunting ground.
While I was at work on my masterpiece...Peter and Margo would take a stroll in the sunken garden to look at the flowers. To my surprise, they had both suddenly become very botanically minded.
A pot of black paint was produced and laboriously, in rather trickly capitals, I traced her name along the side: THE BOOTLE-BUMTRINKET. There it was; not only an unusual name, but an aristocratically hyphenated one as well. In order to ease Mother's mind I had to promise that I would refer to the boat only as the Bootle in conversation with strangers.
I was not, however, the least impressed by this last bit of information; I had met a number of people who professed to be interested in birds, and who had turned out (after careful questioning) to be charlatans who did not know what a hoopoe looked like...
"Most people say that as one gets older one believes nothing and is surprised at nothing, so that one becomes more receptive to ideas. Nonsense! All the old people I know have had their minds locked up like grey, scaly oysters since they were in their teens."
"I assure you the house is a death-trap. Every conceivable nook and cranny is stuffed with malignant faunae waiting to pounce...A simple, innocuous action like lighting a cigarette is fraught with danger. Even the sanctity of my bedroom is not respected. First, I was attacked by a scorpion...Now we have snakes in the bath and huge flocks of albatrosses flapping around the house, making noises like defective plumbing."