, Research Paper
The Guilt of Killing the Innocent
“A conscience cannot prevent sin. It only prevents you from enjoying it”
Have you ever hurt or killed something throughout your life and felt bad about your actions? A sense of wonder and reason probably crossed your mind and all you could ask yourself was, why? There’s many times people feel guilty about their actions and sometimes have a feeling of sadness and depression. Animals are a huge part of the world that cause remorse among society. Many people share love, bonds, and relationships with animals, but continue to hunt them for pleasure and nourishment. There are times that people feel bad about what they do to a creature just for a few minutes of pleasure or just a bite to eat. It’s amazing how close one can feel to an animal and then go to many extremes to kill it. Besides reality within humans, there are many authors that incorporate guilt with killing throughout their novels. Humans and authors novels such as James Serpell’s In The Company of Animals and Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, portray images throughout their ideas that dispense thoughts and representations of killing animals through feeling a sense of shame.
Take for example the millions of vegetarians throughout the world. They are all different in their selection of foods, opinions of animals, and what they eat. Some people won’t eat certain meats while others will go to the extreme of eating nothing that comes from animals, whether it is eggs or gelatin. Vegetarians feel a sense of disgust and a sick sensation of eating a creature that God placed on the earth. They feel that God placed the animal on the earth to live in peace and harmony, not to face the trauma and death for the benefit of others. Vegetarians feel it is disrespectful towards animals and believe it is not fair to kill off an innocent creation. Some feel very strong about the issue that they will protest the slaughtering of animals and the plan of making garments from their skin and fur. They experience guilt by eating the remains of a dead animal that used to be alive. The torture and pain that each animal endured causes vegetarians to feel bad about eating them. People are still fighting to discontinue the violation of animals, but the guilt and feeling of shame will never leave the mind of a true vegetarian.
Besides humans, Hemingway displays a similar portrayal of remorse with the killing of an animal throughout Old Man and the Sea. A close relationship that is united between a man by the name of Santiago and a marlin allows ones emotions to take a toll and undergo an adventure of guilt. Santiago has a strange appreciation and sympathy for the fish. Marlins, to Santiago, are ornaments that create a feeling of nature and loyalty towards him. The old man holds a bond and strength of love and devotion with the creatures lurking the environment that he is surrounded by. The turtles for example have similar characteristics like Santiago, such as a heart, feet, and hands. The flying fish act like his family members since they encompass him everyday by playing and searching for food. Over time Santiago and the marlin mold a connection that causes the old man to feel more emotion for the fish than expected. On the first day, Santiago speaks to the marlin “Fish?I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends”(60). By the end of the day, the marlin is still alive, but trying to strive for every last bit of its lasting life. Santiago then sympathizes for the fish and does his best not to disturb or violate the marlin during the sunset. ” The setting of the sun is a difficult time for all fish”(81). Santiago wants the fish to rest in peace and cares for the well being of the creature. The old man distinguishes the great worth of the fish that he never knew existed. “Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity” (83). As the fish continues to fight for survival, Santiago gains an enormous amount of admiration towards the marlin. He says to the fish, “You are killing me, fish?. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who” (102). By the time Santiago defeats and reels in the fish, he feels a sense of love and respect for the animal, but his emotions are excruciating. Santiago realizes how much the fish really means to him. Both of them know that in the end someone is going to get hurt. Santiago wants a prize possession and the marlin wants nourishment, but only one can win. Since they are in similar positions, one of them was going to suffer the consequences. Santiago feels guilty killing the marlin since his emotions and love for the creature begin to arise. He starts to notice similar traits between him and the fish that make him realize that he was trying to kill a great friend.
Throughout James Serpell’s chapter “Killer with a conscience” in his novel In the Company of Animals, he discusses the thoughts of guilt accompanying the killing of animals. Serpell explains how it is difficult for humans to differentiate clearly between themselves and animals. Many people develop close relationships with animals and attribute many human characteristics to animals. Because we are animals, and can share and relate many or our feelings with animals, we can use it for understanding and predicting the outcomes of other creatures thoughts. Since we usually think of animals in terms of humans “we are bound by the same code of morality” that watches over our contact with other people (174). Generally it is hard for people to kill or hurt animals without feeling shame or a lack of sympathy. “If we were capable of being truly objective about animals, we would not have the slightest qualms about damaging or destroying them, except, conceivably, for abstruse intellectual or aesthetic reasons” (174). Hunting is one of the examples that Serpell uses as a model for feeling guilty. Because animals are looked upon as being equal to humans, it is basically killing off someone that is similar to ones self. In a way it could be considered murder. It would be an adventure to be in an animal’s body and perceive the world from its point of view. Feeling its emotions and what the animal was going through would help analyze the objective in hunting. If one knew how much it were hurting and abusing the animals then it would make them aware and know that they would not want to be treated that way. If something should give you a guilty conscience then obviously there are thoughts crossing your mind that are telling you that something is wrong.
Throughout history, many animals have had to face the hardships of abuse and death. Being the killer, hunter, or abuser is not always an easy task for everyone. The guilt that overcomes many people is not always easy to deal with. Humans and even authors of novels share many of their ideas and views about the shame that accompanies the killing of animals. Besides humans, Serpell’s work of In the Company of Animals and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea incorporated guilt with the senseless acts of killing animals. The awareness that these people portray aids in the ability for the reader and society to think about the disrespectful events that are occurring to animals throughout the world.
Hemingway, Ernest. Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.
Serpell, James. In the Company of Animals: A study of human-animal relationships. Canto edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.