Friday, May 20, 2011
THE IGUANA by Isak Dinesen
In the reserve I have sometimes come upon the iguanas, the big lizards, as they were sunning themselves upon a flat stone in a river-bed. They are not pretty in shape, but nothing can be imagined more beautiful than their colouring. They shine like a heap of precious stones or like a pane cut out of an old church window. When, as you approach, they swish away, there is a flash of azure, green, and purple over the stones, the colour seems to be standing behind them in the air, like a comet's luminous tail.
Once I shot an iguana. I thought that I should be able to make some pretty things from his skin. A strange thing happened then, that I have never afterwards forgotten. As I went up to him, where he was lying dead upon his stone, and actually while I was walking the few steps, he faded and grew pale; all colour died out of him as in one long sigh, and by the time that I touched him he was grey and dull like a lump of concrete. It was the live impetuous blood pulsating within the animal which had radiated out all that glow and splendour. Now that the flame was put out, and the soul had flown, the iguana was as dead as a sandbag.
Often since I have, in some sort, shot an iguana, and I have remembered the one in the Reserve. Up at Meru I saw a young Native girl with a bracelet on, a leather strap two inches wide, and embroidered all over with very small turquoise-coloured beads which varied a little in colour and played in green, light blue, and ultramarine. It was an extraordinarily live thing; it seemed to draw breath on her arm, so that I wanted it for myself, and made Farah buy it from her. No sooner had it come upon my own arm than it gave up the ghost. It was nothing now, a small, cheap, purchased article of finery. It had been the play of colours, the duet between the turquoise and the 'nègre' -- that quick, sweet, brownish black, like peat and black pottery, of the Native's skin that had created the life of the bracelet.
In the Zoological Museum of Pietermaritzburg, I have seen, in a stuffed deep-water fish in a showcase, the same combination of colouring, which there had survived death; it made me wonder what life can well be like, on the bottom of the sea, to send up something so live and airy. I stood in Meru and looked at my pale hand and at the dead bracelet. It was as if an injustice had been done to a noble thing, as if truth had been suppressed. So sad did it seem that I remembered the saying of the hero in a book that I had read as a child: "I have conquered them all, but I am standing among graves."
In a foreign country and with foreign species of life one should take measures to find out whether things will be keeping their value when dead. To the settlers of East Africa I give the advice: 'For the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.'
In this story, the author describes one of her experiences in Africa, where she lived for several years. It is an extract from her book, Out of Africa which was published in 1937. The book was written after she returned to Denmark.
The story begins with the author’s description of the iguana, an animal she is extremely fascinated by. Her admiration for this creature is brought out by the way she describes it, comparing it to a heap of precious stones, and a pane cut out of an old church window. They glitter in the sun like a mass of colour and as they hurriedly swish away on the approach of an intruder, their radiant colours seem to linger on like the afterglow of a comet.
The author then narrates an incident that she has never forgotten since. She is tempted to shoot an iguana, thinking that she will be able to make some pretty things from its skin. However, as the iguana dies, its brilliant colours recede as the life ebbs out of its body. To her utter disappointment, the author finds that the dead iguana is drab and grey as a lump of concrete.
She goes on describe another incident where in attempting to remove an object from its rightful place, she feels she destroyed it. However this time it is an inanimate bracelet that the author spots on the arm of a young Native girl. The bead bracelet looks alive as its colours mingle in a complex play of blues and greens. It draws the author’s attention and she wants it for herself. As soon as she wears it, she realises that its beauty lay in the exciting interaction of bright turquoise on the girl’s ebony skin. As she sees it on her own arm she feels that the bracelet has lost its value and turned into a lifeless, cheap trinket.
The stuffed deep-water fish she sees at a zoo has not lost its colour after death. It leads the author to marvel and wonder what life must be like at the bottom of the sea and that if a single, dead fish looks so beautiful, a whole shoal of living fish would be even more breath-taking and vibrant.
The author concludes with the thought that man should not interfere with nature because there is so much we do not understand about it. In our greed and desire to acquire things we may destroy what is most pure and beautiful.
The author draws the reader’s attention by creating mental imagery with her descriptions. She does so by using metaphors and similes that help us picture what she is describing. Through the description, she also conveys the theme and message of her story. As she describes the iguana’s brilliant beauty and the way its colours wane as it dies, the author subtly convinces the reader of the tragic waste of the animal’s life.