Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House It is our human spirit that separates us from animals. Because animals lack a spirit of their own, they have no conscience to guide them with the inner sense of right and wrong. T.C. Boyle’s “Carnal Knowledge” portrays two people, Jim and Alena, who live as if they lack a human spirit. Like animals, they act as they please, satisfying their own wants with no sense of morality.
From Jim’s lies of being a vegan to Alena’s hatred towards mankind, we see an underlying theme. This theme is that a human being without spiritual depth and moral reasoning becomes just meat. Being the first-person narrator, Jim tells the reader about himself and eventually exposes what an animal he is. “I saw those ads in the magazines, the ones that showed the veal calves penned up in their own waste, their limbs atrophied, and their veins so pumped full of antibiotics they couldn’t control their bowels, but when I took a date to Anna Maria’s, I could never resist the veal scallopini” (Meyer 242). Even in his introductory words, Jim expresses his numb feelings towards tortured animals.
From the way he describes the sad life forced upon the veal calves to the way he talks about his love to feast upon this same breed, it becomes clear that Jim has neither shame nor organic unity. He acts according to what he wants, knowing full well that he pleasures upon the suffering of others. Later, when he is in conversation with his lust interest Alena, he tries and finally succeeds in making her think that he identifies with her and how she feels about the cruelty done towards animals. In response to her comment about how “every day is Auschwitz for the animals,” he tells the reader: “I looked down into the amber aperture of my beer bottle and nodded my head sadly .. I wondered if she’s go out to dinner with me, and what she could eat if she did” (Meyer 245).
Here it is obvious now that he only wants to agree with what Alena says to please her so she will agree to go out with him. ” ‘I don’t eat meat myself,’ I lied, ‘or actually, not anymore’ – since the pastrami sandwich, that is” (Meyer 246). Because of his lust for Alena, he immorally and without hesitation acts as if he too is outraged and disgusted by the act of cruelty towards animals and lies to her about being a vegan. After he goes to bed with her, he even goes as far as protesting in Beverly Hills, “waving a placard that read HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WEAR A CORPSE? in letters that dripped like blood” (Meyer 246). He does all this because he becomes “Alena Jorgenson’s lover” and does not want to lose his position (Meyer 247). Finally, his final act of dishonesty is when he unwillingly agrees to illegally liberate a herd of turkeys before Thanksgiving just for the sake of Alena.
“I thought about meat and jail and the heroic proportions to which I was about to swell in Alena’s eyes and what I intended to do to her when we finally got to bed” (Meyer 250). From the second he meets Alena to the end of the story he acts only to please Alena because to him the thought of having her in bed is worth any type of manipulation and dishonesty. In this way, Jim is just a piece of meat. He is just an animal. No animal is worthy to be called a human if it lacks a heart, a spirit, and a sense of right or wrong. Each time Jim lies and manipulates Alena, he does without hesitation or regret.
He treats her like a piece of meat, and likewise, Alena also shows him the same courtesy. Alena is no less and animal than Jim is. She sleeps with Jim, but really, no affection is really seen between the two. In describing the greeting between Alena and Rolfe, Jim tells the reader: “She took the steps in a bound and threw herself in his arms. I watched them kiss, and it wasn’t a fatherly-daughterly sort of kiss, not at all.
It was a kiss with some meaning behind it, and I didn’t like it” (Meyer 249). Here it is safe to conclude that Alena cares for Rolfe rather than for Jim. It is even surprising that Alena has it in her to be so loving because to Jim, she never showed this kind of love, even though they were lovers. Each time she had intercourse with him the night before, she asks him another favor the next morning. The first time, she asks for his helping hand in “marching up and down the sidewalk in front of a fur emporium in Beverly Hills” (Meyer 246).
Next, she asks him a big favor to drive her and Rolfe to free the turkeys. She treats Jim like a piece of meat, allowing him to suffer through the protest and even asking him to risk the possibility of jail time by aiding her and her love interest to save the turkeys. Nothing in her feels shame or guilt by using Jim. Her last words to him were, “We’re the plague on this planet, don’t you know that” (Meyer 254)? This whole time Jim has been suffering to do everything to make her happy, she has only seen him as a “plague on the planet.” Although she has asked a lot from Him and even agreed to pursue a physical relationship, she cares nothing about Him as a person, but only sees him as a tool. “The hollowness opened up, cored me out till I felt as if I’d been plucked and gutted and served up on a platter myself” (Meyer 254).
It is humorous to see how Him is so surprised that she has dropped him so quickly after all they have been through. To the reader, it is obvious that Alena has no care for mankind. “She described how she’s spiked trees, an act that everyone knows can kill lumber jacks sawing down that tree. Alena hates human beings so much that she is willing to be responsible for their death, just for the sake of nature. Because of her callused heart and lack of a conscience, Alena proves to be inhuman.
Like her dog Alf, she finds no shame in “pissing on” anything that is human. On one hand, because of his own actions, Jim has made himself an animal by treating Alena like a piece of meat. On the other hand, since Alena also treated Him the same way, she is also an animal. Because of their actions, both Him and Alena prove to have had no morals. Both characters use each other for their own need of “carnal knowledge.” One for the definition of “knowledge of the flesh” and the other for her knowledge of a bird. Because they portray no spiritual depth or moral reasoning, Jim and Alena became nothing in the end but “only meat.” Animals are only good for being meat.
Although each character seemingly gets away with being conniving and dishonest, neither can hide from the fact that they are only empty human beings. A human with no content is only flesh. As a lesson, Him and Alena show how any human being who does not act according to one’s conscience is an empty vessel, with no content, no life. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing .. ” – John 6:63.