I just wrote a ~2000 words short story inspired by the Nanking Massacre. It is an allegory told through anthropomorphic animal characters.
However, I feel that there is something missing from the story. Maybe many don’t see the allegory the way I intended it to be seen.
So, I’m wondering if I could obtain the interpretation of the story from a literature expert like you and maybe some suggestions for improvement.
I know that the rules ask for us to just post part of the story, but mine is rather short. I also feel that summarizing it would be putting my own interpretation in it. It would give a different effect than if the readers directly read it.
I’m wondering if I can just post my whole story here.
The reader background one is something you’ll have to grapple with. Lots of people don’t know what happened in Nanking and you’ll have to live with that. How people choose to interpret it is up to them and if you’re successful, they can apply it to other things. Not everyone who watched District 9 knew it was about apartheid in South Africa, but it still had applicable moral lessons.
What’s your concern about the way it is written that you think is letting it down?
I’m afraid that people don’t fully grasp the meaning of my allegory because it isn’t “the right allegory”. Could you tell me your interpretation of the story? I will summarize it as objectively as possible.
In a world of anthropomorphic animals, Wolves invade South City, where many sheep live, and start a massacre, torturing, killing, and eating any sheep in sight - whether they are civilians or not - despite their claim that they only intend to rule the city.
Six-year-old ewe lamb Little White disguises herself as a ram to avoid rape and to travel to the Safety Zone, a place organized by foreign beasts that is relatively safe from the attacks. From accounts of various sheep and the state of corpses lying in the streets, she thinks that Wolves are actual wolves, the carnivores with fangs and long nails.
After encountering some Wolves during her journey, she discovers that they are actually cannibalistic rams who call themselves “Wolves”. The discovery replaces her fear for Wolves with anger and disgust. She is able to face the Wolves and survive.
The relationship between wolves and sheep is one of predator and prey, so metaphorically speaking it is entirely natural and right for wolves to pursue sheep, including doing terrible things to them (such as mauling them). Even if it were rams disguised as wolves, that really only makes it more confusing as it would imply that the rams took on the guise of something that is supposed to be doing that, whereas no human should do that to other humans.
But wouldn’t this be what Nazis and allies who followed their mindset, like the Imperial Japanese troops, thought about other ethnic groups? In their diaries, they compared humans of other groups to insects, vermin, and pigs - anything that ‘should be butchered or exterminated’ - and thus justified their own acts. It is just like the Wolves, who are rams, calling themselves “Wolves”. They believed that they were the “superior race”, the predators, and acted accordingly although it is wrong and, as you have mentioned,
The allegory can also be seen from the perspective of the victims. Maybe because of the very nature of invaders or the horrifying acts they committed, many of the victimized group, the sheep, ‘accepted’ that the Wolves were terrifying creatures, that they were different than themselves - or non-human (as a parallel to real life). The sheep of South City lost the will to face them head on although they greatly outnumbered the Wolves and could face them even without weapon.
Of course, there are other reasons why they didn’t face the Wolves, like hunger and disease, but I believe that this psychological factor is an important one.
Little White was able to see the situation in another perspective and discover the true tragedy behind it: humans doing inhumane things to other humans out of arrogance. She was able to see the Wolves as who they were and could only feel disappointment toward humanity.
How would you allegorize this situation or make modifications?
The allegory is fine. Maybe your readers won’t connect it directly with Nanking, sadly there are many other examples that would apply just as well. You might put in something that suggests Nanking in a more obvious way if you want, but regardless the idea comes across nicely, even if the exact incident that inspired you to write the piece isn’t as well known to your readers as other atrocities.
Yes, the mindset of many imperial powers was that this was the natural order or that they had every right to do this sort of stuff. The eugenics movement at large was still a thing.
If you’re going to use an animal metaphor, generally you’ll need to then play in the world of animals. If they play in the world of humans but are just animals, it will create a strange metaphor. In a world of animals, of sheep and wolves, it would be the natural order for wolves to hunt sheep. It would probably mean they’re always doing this sort of stuff.
Probably, in this world, sheep are used to wolf invasions. Wolves feast on sheep as per usual. Maybe, as part of that, there has been an escalating war between them of the sheep slowly building better defences and wolves building better weapons (hence the tanks rolling in). I imagine wolves would be teaching their wolf cubs that it was right to go and take the sheep’s lives, it was the natural order.
Perhaps, so that it ties to Nanking, some of the wolves go so out of control that they brutalize the sheep to the point that they can’t really even eat them, which creates a case where the wolves don’t know what to do. A different group, the eagles, chase them off and scold them, saying that they should treat them like proper prey, but the wolves never acknowledge anything was wrong and never apologize.
That would be a dark reflection, in which the sheep are only “saved” by another group who still looks down on them, and also is clearly about Nanking since Japan has not acknowledged what happened there to this day, while staying entirely within the realm of natural order that the animal world metaphor creates (predator-prey). Not to say you have to go with that one specifically, but this version’s central premise revolves around the mechanics of the food chain and animal kingdom, as opposed to being Nanking but with animals.
In terms of the victim blaming or self-identification as inferior or coming up with the strength to fight back, I would be very careful to put in multiple different metaphors. Either go with that one or go with the one from the wolf perspective of having the right to do this. I would lean away from the victim of war crimes stuff personally, just because I think it can send some weird messages about how people victimized in war could have fought back and people weave bizarre narratives out of that, similar to how gun control advocates say that when Hitler took away the guns, then the Jews lost the ability to fight (even though that’s not historically true).
Do you mean to represent different ethnic groups with different species of animals?
I’ve thought about it actually. I’ve also read several stories with animal allegory that do this. I think it is an intuitive - and just as much effective - way to represent different groups, but what I really want to convey is how some mindset and arrogance can do to people and how these people are viewed by different parties, their victims and an unrelated party, like the reader.
Even in today’s society, many tend to consider themselves fundamentally different than others from different ethnic groups. This feeling is emphasized during wartime and even more when one party holds rather extreme beliefs.
In the human world, we tend to see such enemies as devils, monsters, creatures that are different than humans, just like how the sheep think that the invaders, who call themselves “Wolves”, are actual wolves, some monsters in their stories. (I think I omitted this in my summary.) It would also be intuitive for the readers to believe so at this point.
However, in the end, the MC discovers that the Wolves, the invaders, are not wolves, but sheep who believe themselves to be wolves - or, in parallel, human invaders who believe themselves to be born superior despite being of the same ‘race’ as their victims.
If the Wolves are really wolves, then it wouldn’t be ‘arrogant’ of them to assume that they have the right to massacre the sheep. It is the natural order. However, if the Wolves are sheep, then it would be arrogant (and wrong) of them to think that they have the right to commit such atrocities to the sheep - just like how it wouldn’t be right for humans do so to other humans.
I agree that this makes the metaphor a bit strange, and I think that this is what has been bothering me. Should I completely change the Wolves’ species? Is there another way to improve my current metaphor while keeping the Wolves as sheep?
P.S. Also, I didn’t mention in my summary that the Wolves turned carnivore and later invaded the sheep’s city probably because they lacked resources in their own territory - if this helps.
About using different species, I’ve also thought about representing different social classes - rather than ethnic groups - as different species. I wanted the generals in the Wolves army to be the only real wolves while the rest are sheep. They are the ones who train their sheep and teach them how to behave like wolves. Do you think this would be a fitting metaphor? Would it be controversial?
I think I omitted some details in my summary. I actually included the part where the Wolves ate and killed so much that they can’t eat anymore. But what do you mean by “proper prey”?
Letting the sheep getting saved by another group is an interesting idea. This would give more insights to Japan and other countries’ attitudes. I might consider it.
I see what you mean. There can be controversy. Do you think that simply mentioning that less than twenty Wolves killed hundreds of sheep with fang - not even with guns - would be too much?
No, I don’t necessarily mean different ones represent different races, it just works to have another predator and so on for that particular metaphor (because there were multiple parties in the war and because the eagle represents the “allies” for extending the metaphor). I wouldn’t say you have to read into it that much, but then again, such is metaphor.
As for the reveal of wolves being sheep or what that means, I understand how that metaphor works, it kind of doesn’t work because it gets into an overly obvious space? This is hard to explain, metaphor loses symbolic weight when it becomes too blatant what the author is trying to express without needing exploration. Basically, if there’s no room for interpretation, it’s not engaging. In its worst version, it causes the reader to reject the metaphor in the same way you reject a parent. You roll your eyes and go “I get it, I get it, man is the most dangerous animal, gawd.” So in the version I did, they really are wolves because it asks the question of basically if how these powers felt was really true, how would it make you, the reader, feel? Does it make it right? When people say things like “We have the right to do this” do they? What does it mean if that’s really true? What does it look like?
Ad that also ties in to what I mean by proper prey, but also I leave it up to you to interpret that as you will. In what I presented, you could say the eagles are telling the wolves that the sheep have to be treated properly, but not as equals to the wolves, but rather as proper prey. They can kill them but they should never waste food, obviously, by brutalizing them. In another way, it is a critique on how we have rules for war, rather than having just outlawed war entirely. It can be a statement on how even the saviour still views the thing they’re saving as inferior. It has a lot of directions. That it makes you think or say “what does that mean, exactly?” is sort of the point when you’re working in metaphor like this. If people have the answer or it feels too obvious, they’ll often reject it, or it won’t stick with them.
As for the final question, I mean they can kill them with guns, that’s not really the part that matters, same thing with how many of them there might be. In the world of nature, people understand there are way more prey animals than predator in any relations (hence it forms a pyramid).