A Tale of Two Mammals: The Analysis of How to Make it in Society Connected by the delicate branches of the tree that sprouted from the constantly expanding lineage of the Mammalian family, the hedgehog and the armadillo are also separated by millions of years of evolution. The choice in animals for the poems did not fall under the laws of natural selection, they were hand selected to represent the separate, yet connected underlying messages. Paul Muldoon, author of “Hedgehog”, and Yusef Komunyakaa, author of “Night of the Armadillo”, both declare society as a negative parasitic being.
Both mammalian protagonists bear suits of armor that barely suppress the impending offensive physical/social forces, all the meanwhile representing the average man due to the small figure compared to the overwhelming size of society, while the relation comes from not one excerpt of each poem, yet each line is an ingredient in preparing one single message. The authors argue that society is a cancerous force that contorts itself to reach under the shells of individuals, yet when approached by conformity-resistant armored personalities, it attacks and isolates the target. “The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a Rubber cushion of itself, Sharing its secret With the hedgehog. The hedgehog Shares its secret with no one. We say, Hedgehog, come out Of yourself and we will love you. We mean no harm. We want Only to listen to what You have to say. We want Your answers to our questions. The hedgehog gives nothing Away, keeping itself to itself. We wonder what a hedgehog Has to hide, why it so distrusts. We forget the god under this crown of thorns. We forget that never again will a god trust in the world” In this poem, the snail stands for the conformists who have given into the cancerous ways of society.
The spineless invertebrates are the bottom feeders of the world – the lower, more common species of the animal hierarchy. The author uses a mollusk to display the disposability of the common conformed individual. The snail may have the protection of a shell, but he must leave that behind to slowly spread his secrets. On the other hand, the hedgehog represents much more than the snail. It is vastly more rare and exotic, and is hailed supreme as the Mammalia family presides over the Mollusk with the addition of the strength that lies in its backbone, intelligence, and the warm oxygenated blood pumping through its body.
Given its advantages over the Mollusk, its Achilles heel is that the hedgehog is vastly outnumbered by the heavy populated snail. The hedgehog is the goodness in human kind, its integrity. Honorably, the animal keeps to its ties by not sharing it’s secrets with society. An ominous commentary then begins toward the hedgehog, and the collected voice of society calls out to the noble creature requesting the vermin to lower his shields in return for the love of his peers. Society begs and begs to extract the requested information with the promise of safety.
The voice keeps calling out to the uninterested individual, trying to establish any connection it can until the desire became too great. “We want / Your answers to our questions” (11-12), requests turn to demands and society begins to take the offensive on the tank of the animal kingdom. This evolution of communication, passive to aggressive, is underlying proof of the liquid goal society has to seep into armor of the unsuspecting average man. Yielding his integrity over the curiosity of society, the hedgehog finds trust only in itself. This refusal at the moral level shows the strength and integrity the hedgehog has.
While the hedgehog is the goodness in people, society views this negatively, as keeping to himself must be a reason for the vermin to be hiding something, even though the hedgehog is the lone light in the dark. The voice’s transition from a positive outtake to a negative one is shown when he labels the hedgehog with a capital “Your”, then never again capitalizing another reference of the small armored mammal. The hedgehog is alone from his peers, isolated from the rest of society as he keeps to himself. The author realizes that society wants a hero, a savior to improve the world.
The reason there is not one is that we forget the good people in the world, because the independent ones who make their own choices take the “road less traveled” and society looks down on this. In the next stanza, the tone shifts as the author directly connects the conflict between the hedgehog vs. the voices to man vs. society when he clarifies, “We forget the god…” (17). Muldoon covertly exposes the real identity of the hedgehog when substituting the animal as the deity that, in the Judea-Christian belief, is whom “created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27).
While the hedgehog is God, the voice is society as the author connects the dots between the narrator and “We”. When Muldoon states “We”, he in-avertedly ties together the voice, “We”, and he reaches out of the paper to also include the audience, and society all into this one same being. In this poem our god-like hedgehog is adorned “under this crown of thorns” (18), to represent the spikes that shield him from the outer world, to represent the pain and agony the hedgehog bears from the rejection of the voice, and to connect the event to yet another religious tie, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
As society condemned the Savior, a good man who went against common beliefs, to execution with the symbolism of the crown of thorns. If there are good people in the world, then society is isolating them by depraving them of all trust in the outside world. Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem reads, “You huddle into a shield or breastplate, a whisper in the dark summoning your kin one by one along the frontier. In your kingdom, errant knight of undergrowth, even in your gut fear, you’re always on the verge of a new border or at the edge before crossing into the interior f false prophecies. Desert blooms or berries fall into marshy hush. Around a sharp curve planetary lights spring out of nothingness. How did you go wrong?
With only blind faith & a dead star left in your eyes, where’s North America? You’ve been around eons, not knowing when you’ve left one age & entered another, but I found your Olympus of foolish odds in the modern world. Lovers in cars, delivery trucks make leaves tremble along the roadside. If you know this, little suitcase of guts & nails, you are still alive, ven with your broken hinges. ” The armadillo holds itself in defense in his shell, the only separation between the noble vermin and his enemies. Komunyakaa describes the shell “You huddle into a shield or breastplate” (1) as a shield or breastplate to envelop the armadillo in a foggy image of a knight, the bold individual soldiers whom preformed solemn quests to prove oneself. In the next few lines, society’s whispers ride upon the evening zephyr and drain into the thoughts of the armored individual hoping to coax them into uncharted lands.
The peer pressure is constantly beckoning the armadillo out to journey where he has not tread, into a land of unforeseen dangers, risk, melted tar, and reflectors. The inner-knight in the armor relishes this quest and follows the urge to taste from the forbidden fruits in the promised Eden that lay ahead. The pioneer vermin is dragged into the territory, nose first in a fruitless attempt to seek the empty promises of looming “desert blooms or berries fall into marshy hush” (7-8). The planetary lights foreshadow and reveal the literal attacker, yet shroud the ominous metaphorical predator of the story, society.
The armadillo is the individual that goes against the way in society, shown literally when the critter crosses the road in a perpendicular fashion to the ongoing stream of cars. The armadillo is the person who “took the road less traveled by” (Frost) while the cars are the clone-like conformist creations of modern society, and each looks and functions the same in the eyes of the armadillo. Dramatic irony pulls back the view of the car and the armadillo to a bird’s eye view; it seemingly detaches the author from the scene as he can analyze each oncoming aspect of the event from a different point of view.
The author criticizes the armadillo for not knowing what was to happen, and for merely going off the orders he received. The defensive armadillo is the struggling American trying to make it in today’s world. He was on the journey to the fruits of his labor until he was struck by the car that life will strike one down with. The hollow shell of a soul in an endless search for unknown riches, the armadillo is a ghostly apparition of the middle class should as it is his quest that leads him to the car, it is him that acts on faith that the bloom will be there, it is him who goes against the automobile in lands unknown.
The car has been waiting for him, positioning itself all along for the fateful event to come; the car is the bullet of society waiting to penetrate the taut skin of the average hardworking man with economic and social forces powering it to crush the target. When asking the rhetorical question, the commentary ties the relation between armadillos and cars to individuals in society by asking “where’s North America” (11). By doing so, this further proves that the injured animal is the American man devastated by the economy.
He tells the audience that this happens to the majority of people who “cross the road” as the armadillo is the same sentient being reincarnated time after time, eon after eon to fill out the same template which we call life. They are no different from others, nor different from themselves even in other past lives. Each is the same, differing in some substitutions to their own template, yet still guided by the parallel rails of ignorance and selfishness. The armadillo is the center of his own universe, just as it is with the average American taking risk against the “Olympus of foolish odds” (14-15).
Much as the Armadillo ignores the incoming traffic, Americans’ “Olympus” of ignorance is what blinds them into getting metaphorically run over. The author then distresses a message about the peer pressure of society. While no matter the person, all of society are cars, whether lovers or delivery trucks, and they each only make leaves tremble in their wake. To be something different, the author yearns to reach out by telling the audience that even if struck by a car, keep going on: “you are still alive, even with your broken hinges” (19-20).
Both poems convey two different messages, yet when combined they tell the audience to “take the road less traveled”. To tread from the constant contorting liquid image of society that strives to surround and drown the weary traveler. To be the individual who takes a stand for their beliefs. To be the one who wears an outer suit of armor. To assume the position of “the god under this crown of thorns” (17-18). And upon that sacrifice, that martyrdom, keep on traveling the path in-between the parallels of integrity and morality, because “you are still alive, even with your broken hinges” (19-20).
Works Cited Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Komunyakaa, Yusef. “Night of the Armadillo. ” Editorial. The Paris Review. N. p. , n. d. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. <http://www. theparisreview. org/poetry/6136/two-poems-yusef-komunyakaa>. Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken. ” Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 16 Jun 2003. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://poetry. poetryx. com/poems/271/>. “Hedgehog” from Poems 1968-1998 by Paul Muldoon. Copyright © 2001 by Paul Muldoon. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. www. fsgbooks. com