Sigmund Freud once argued that "our species has a volcanic potential to erupt in aggression . . . and that we harbour not only positive survival instincts but also a self-destructive 'death instinct', which we usually displace towards others in aggression" (Myers 666).
Timothy Findley, born in 1930 in Toronto, Canada, explores our human predilection towards violence in his third novel, The Wars. It is human brutality that initiates the horrors of World War I, the war that takes place in this narrative. Findley dedicated this novel to the memory of his uncle, Thomas Irving Findley, who 'died at home of injuries inflicted in the First World War" (Cude 75) and may have propelled him to feel so strongly about "what people really do to one another" (Inside Memory 19). Findley feels a great fondness for animals, and this affection surfaces faithfully in many of his literary works.
The Wars is a novel wrought with imagery, and the most often recurring pattern is that of animals. Throughout the novel, young Robert Ross' strong connection with animals is continually depicted in his encounters with the creatures. Findley uses Robert to reveal the many similarities between humans and animals. The only quality, which we humans do not appear to share with our animal counterparts, is our inexplicable predisposition to needless savagery. In his video documentary, The Anatomy of a Writer, Findley describes his affinity for animals when he says that he has "always been in awe of . . .
animals. He has never understood where humankind picked up the idea that animals are less than people are-that man is everything". In The Wars, Findley stresses his belief that humans are "no better and no worse-no larger and no smaller than any other creature that walks or crawls or flies or swims. They are merely different" (Roberts 56). Parallels are drawn between the protagonist, Robert Ross, and many of the animals that appear throughout the novel.
Robert appears to have a strong kinship with his animal counterparts. After enlisting in the army, Robert takes a run out on the prairie, where he encounters a coyote. He instinctively begins to follow the creature, and it leads him to a valley where it stops to drink at a small pond. As it drinks, "the sound . . . crosses the distance between them and .
. . seems to satisfy his own thirst" (The Wars 28). Before the coyote leaves, it turns and "looks directly at him . .
. and barks . . .The coyote had known he was there the whole time: maybe the whole of the run across the prairie. Now it was telling Robert that the valley was vacant: safe-and Robert could proceed to the water's edge and drink" (28).
Later that night, as he sits alone, Robert finds himself "wishing that someone would howl" (28). Robert also seems to have a special bond with birds, which often appear in the novel, frequently at times of crisis for Robert. After unwittingly leading his men through the fog onto a collapsing dike, the air is suddenly "filled with the shock waves of wings .
. . and the sound of their motion sends a shiver down Robert's back" (81). Subsequently, Robert steps into the sinking mud and is nearly sucked down to his death beneath the earth. Later in the novel, Robert again encounters a bird, and it is at the same moment that he sees "a German soldier with a pair of binoculars staring right at him" (142). Then again, while on the way to the dugout, where Robert is later shelled, he notices that "the sky is breached by a wavering arm of wings. The crows are following" (89).
Finally, only shortly preceding arguably the most cataclysmic event in the novel, Robert looks up to the sky and finds himself thinking that there "should have been birds" (197). By acting as omens of danger for Robert, the birds in this novel reinforce Robert's connection with animals. Robert finds it easier to relate to animals than to humans. Any of the human characters in the novel for which Robert feels significant affection are also people with strong kinship to animals. His beloved sister, Rowena, was closely attached to her pet rabbits. His friend Rodwell keeps injured animals under his bunk and nurses them back to health. Harris, another friend of Robert's, says that "everyone who's born has come from the sea.
The womb is just a sea in small. And birds come from seas in eggs. Horses lie in the sea before they're born. The placenta is the sea. And your blood is the sea continued in your veins" (117). Robert also acknowledges our animal heritage when he notes that to sleep invariably puts you in danger, and it was the "animal memory in you that knew that" (101). In the end of the novel, Robert loses his life in an attempt to save those of innocent horses.
Findley uses Robert's connection with the animals.