Inhumane Treatment of Livestock in James Agee's "A Mother's Tale"

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Inhumane Treatment of Livestock in James Agee’s “A Mother’s Tale”
In “A Mother’s Tale” by James Agee, a calf poses questions to his mother. “What is it? What are they doing? Where are they going?” (1) The mother can only answer her calf’s questions with a legend passed down about ‘The One Who Came Back’. At the time of this publication, there was a public outcry for the humane treatment of livestock meant for slaughter. President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, “If I went by mail, I’d think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter”. The personification James Agee employs is extremely effective in making the reader sympathetic to the struggles of the cattle; thus, making his message clear.The mother explains to her calf about the conditions that are endured on the trains used for transport. “And nobody could lie down, they slid the door shut with a startling rattle and a bang, and then there was a sudden jerk, so strong they might have fallen except that they were packed so closely together”(5). The overcrowding of railcars was a common practice. The American Humane Association reported in 1952 that approximately 38% of cattle were seriously injured or died during transport. ( American Humane Association)

Agee writes, “But they never let them out. And never gave them food or water” (6). The Twenty-Eight Hour Law states that livestock may not be confined “for more than 28 consecutive hours without unloading the animals for feeding, water, and rest” (49 USC 80502). The time frame of the ride is described as “it turned from night to day to night and back again several times over” (6). Cattle were typically shipped from the West to the East. The cattle in Agee’s story are clearly being transported from one coast to another in violation of The Twenty-Eight Hour Law.

When the cattle arrive at their destination, there is a false sense of security. Food and water are introduced again, but an ominous feeling plagues the air. “It smelled like old fire, he...
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