attempts to explain the meaning of life to young readers.
Brian O'Connal, the main character, is a young boy who
develops an understanding of birth and death throughout the
novel by observing numerous animals. The birth of
Forbsie's pigeons and his rabbits help him to gain an
understanding of birth. The death of Forbsie's pigeon,
Brian's dog, and Brian's father play an important role in
helping Brian understand birth, death and the true meaning
Brian's first encounter with birth is when he and his
friend, Forbsie, discover the hatching of baby pigeons.
'"They came out of the eggs.' Forbsie said." (51). Brian
has difficulty grasping this fact and asks his father for
help. Brian's father unwillingly provides information on
this matter which results in a brief but not detailed
discussion. From this discussion Brian concludes that the
father pigeon places the baby in the egg and the baby
pigeons grow while the mother pigeon is laying the egg.
When the baby pigeon grows as much as it needs to grow, it
hatches out of the egg. This explanation leaves Brian quite
confused and uninformed of nature's way to reproduce. At
this stage Brian seems to understand that humans and
animals reproduce babies the same way.
Brian's second encounter with birth is again with Forbsie
as the two watch the birth of rabbits. Brian's knowledge of
birth is further developed in this section of the novel.
He is not too sure about the newborn rabbits at first
because they look funny with no hair and there are no eggs.
'"Gee Fat,' Brian had said, 'they look funny---they haven't
got any hair!"' (160). Brian and Forbsie speculate that the
rabbits will soon grow up and have babies then those
rabbits will have babies extending to an infinite amount of
rabbits. Brian is again puzzled with Forbsie's answers and
consequently he goes to his father for help. "'How do
rabbits get started?"'(161). Gerald O'Connal explains to
Brian that rabbits are similar to plants because the two
are started by a planted seed. Rabbits are different from
pigeons and Brian's philosophy on birth changes with his
growing mind. '"That---oh---that's what the baby rabbit
grows from inside the mother rabbit.' Gerald! O'Connal
said."(162). Throughout this talk Brian comes to
differentiate birth between pigeons and rabbits. Rabbits
come from a seed planted by the father in the mother, this
not being the same as pigeons. A baby rabbit grows inside
the mother until he or she is ready to come out, where as a
baby pigeon grows inside an egg until hatching is ready.
The two animals are similar but one baby grows in his or
her mothers' stomach and the other grows in an egg. Brian's
knowledge of birth is clearer in this section because he
has grown and matured therefore his mind can grasp the
process better. Brian now understands a great deal about
birth and how animals grow to be born.
Along with developing an understanding of birth throughout
the novel, Brian also learns about death. Brian endures
many happenings that enable him to know what death is
exactly and why it occurs. After the baby pigeons are born,
Brian decides to take one home in the pouring rain. The
pigeon is still way too young and cannot withstand the
drastic weather, and by the time Brian reaches home with
the pigeon, it is dead. "'It's dead, Spalpeen,' Brian's
father said gently."(56). At this point in the novel Brian
does not understand the significance of death as his father
tells him that things die and this happens because that is
the way a living thing ends. From this experience, Brian
learns that one must dig a hole and cover the dead animal
with earth. People call this burying, but why one does
this, Brian does not quite know.
Brian gets more information about death when his dog, Jappy
dies. Brian expects his dog to always continue doing the
things that he had always done. Brian longs to hear Jappy
bark and see his tail wag, yet all Brian can see is his
dog's stiff and lifeless body lying under a pile of dirt.
Brian cries; all he wants is his dog back and shedding
tears will not bring him back. From this experience Brian
feels pain and emptiness inside his shattered soul.
Brian's encounter with death does not only involve animals
because his father becomes very ill and also dies. Brian
has a difficult time accepting his father's death and is
not quite sure how society expects him to act. Often
fathers mean the world to their children and the thought of
losing their father is enough to make one cry but Brian
does not cry right away. "It was like getting a licking and
trying to make yourself cry so you wouldn't get it so
hard."(238). Brian has a hard time understanding why he has
not cried. When reality strikes, Brian knows that his
father is gone from his life forever causing him to grieve
and cry. Brian's dad was his mentor throughout each
happening about birth and death. When Brian's dad dies, he
teaches Brian the greatest gift of life which is accepting
the truth and letting go of fear.
Brian's understanding of birth and death develops as he
matures through each experience he encounters in the novel.
Although by the end of the novel Brian has not grasped the
full idea of birth and death, he has learnt a great deal
about life. Brian's understanding of birth is a father
planting a seed in the mother and when the baby is fully
grown, it is born. Meanwhile, Brian's knowledge of death is
someone or something that died and is physically gone
forever. Throughout the novel, W.O. Mitchell has portrayed
Brian as a growing and maturing young man who has only just
began his search in discovering the true meaning of life.