Symbolism in Dillard's Essay Living Like Weasels

Categories: Symbolism

“Living Like Weasels”, by Annie Dillard, is a very complex essay with deep metaphorical meaning. In her essay, Dillard takes an interesting view of the way people could live; she describes how a weasel moves through life, suggesting humans take a similar approach.

Bringing things back to a more primitive perspective of instinct and simplicity, she explores through symbolic imagery, why humans should latch on to their one passion in life and never let it go. Many people may think it is strange to suggest that a human being should live like an animal such as the weasel.

However, a weasel exhibits a variety of desirable traits that we humans yearn to attain.

In the first part of Dillard’s essay, she gives a brief introduction of what a weasel is and the sort of tendencies that they have. She then goes on to tell an elaborate story of a man who shot an eagle out of the sky only to find that a weasel was fixed by its jaws to the eagle’s throat.

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Dillard states, “The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won.” The weasel acted upon instinct, disregarding the size and power of the eagle.

Dillard uses this bizarre image to show her admiration for the instinct and determination of this small creature, as well as a basis for the premise of her essay. Further into her essay, Dillard brilliantly ties her thoughts together.

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She states, “Time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into my gut through a jugular vein…The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.”

Here, Dillard creates a clear picture of what she believes to be the best way to find your one true passion. Somewhat like how the weasel instinctively bit onto the eagle’s neck, she suggests that humans stalk their one passion and then hold on wherever it takes them. Dillard sums up the main idea of her entire essay in the last paragraph. She says, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.

Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop”. With this statement, Dillard more directly states that people should do as the weasel does. Just as the weasel grabbed onto the eagle, humans should hang on to their one passion, because even through death and whatever else is to come, what you have grabbed onto will last forever.

Throughout Dillard’s essay she uses key phrases such as “ingested”, “latch on”, “grasp”, “plug into the pulse”, or even “jaws”. All of these are phrases that allude to the segment earlier in her essay about the weasel that fearlessly latches onto the throat of an eagle, refusing to let go. These phrases create an extremely clear and even somewhat violent scenario, but they are all components to what Dillard believes humans should practice in their every day lives.

Through a series of metaphors and symbolic imagery, Dillard is able to convey her philosophy towards life: to latch onto a certain passion and not let it go even through death. Although her idea is very intriguing, even romantic, the type of single mindedness and drive that she suggests could be somewhat dangerous.

Having complex minds that are always aware of choices and different paths to take, the human species could not function under such restrictions as a weasel does. Although this is true, humans can strive for their goals and passions with great determination, yet unlike the weasel, have the benefit of having certain awareness for the consequences of their actions.

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Symbolism in Dillard's Essay Living Like Weasels. (2016, Apr 12). Retrieved from

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