In Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” the death of Big Foot is one of the first major mysterious events in the novel and upon discovering his body, Janina, the protagonist, notices a deer nearby, which she believes to be an omen. This connection between the deer and the death of Big Foot echoes one of William Blake’s most well known themes: the interconnectedness of all living beings. In Blake’s work, he often emphasizes the importance of respecting, understanding, and valuing the natural world and Janina’s belief in the significance of the animals’ presence reflects this concept.
Furthermore, Janina has a fascination with astrology, and she attempts to uncover the truth behind the mysterious deaths in her village by looking at the stars and analyzing their influence on human behavior. For example, in the aftermath of the death of Wnetrzak, Janina creates an astrological chart for him, convinced that the positions of the planets and their features can reveal the reasons behind his passing. This approach is similar to Blake’s mystical and spiritual outlook on life, as he expresses in his poetry and art. For instance, in his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake writes:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
This quote embodies Blake’s belief in the interconnectedness of the universe and the idea that seemingly insignificant things can reveal deeper truths. Similar to Blake, Janina often seeks to understand the deeper meanings and hidden truths of the universe by looking beyond the surface of everyday events and circumstances.
The novel’s focus on animal rights and environmental issues creates another link between the novel and Blake’s work. Janina’s belief that animals have the ability to have revenge on humans is an interesting idea that could have the effect of challenging our beliefs about natural order on earth. This idea reflects Blake’s own views on the relationship between humans and the environment, and is expressed in parts of his poem “The Tyger”:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In this poem, Blake seems fascinated by the beauty and power of the natural world, as represented in his description of the tiger, which comes through to be fierce and magnificent. He encourages us to recognize the dignity and complexity of nature, just as Janina’s belief in animal retribution encourages us to reconsider our impact on the natural environment and our ethical responsibilities toward other living beings.
Olga Tokarczuk skillfully weaves together elements of William Blake’s work, mystery, astrology, and concerns of nature into her story, and by doing so, the novel encourages readers to think about the interconnectedness of all living beings and uncover hidden universal truths. Through this exploration, we can better understand both the novel and Blake’s poetry and appreciate the complex relationships between the world and all living beings.