Astrology A Weapon?

 Throughout “Drive Your Plow of the Bones of the Dead” it’s apparent that Janina’s way of thinking is tied to astrology. Astrology symbolizes the human need to form a sense of order from life’s inherent chaos. Janina’s devout belief in astrology conveys how she uses it as a source of comfort and clarity. Despite the fact that other characters make it clear that they believe astrology is arbitrary and continuously allude to how they think it has no real connection to reality, Janina’s belief never wavers. 

The use of Astrology in the novel grasps my interest as Tokarczuk intertwines it on almost every page. Janina connects everything she does back to astrology. Using it as a way to guide her actions and dare I say justify them.

Here is a brief overview of important terms to understand regarding Janina and her love for astrology:

The Houses: There are 12 houses in an astrology chart. Each represents different facets of your life, based on the time and location of birth, and shows the gifts or obstacles you will face in this lifetime.

Pluto as a ruling planet: Pluto is associated with darkness, the subconscious, death, and rebirth. When a person’s ruling planet is pluto, they tend to crave mystery and intensity. Pluto plays a part in one’s never-ending fascination with learning things that will transcend what they know.

Venus as a ruling planet: Venus is all about pleasure, especially pleasure shared with someone else and pleasure derived from possessions. This planet concerns itself with love, romance, and harmony in our emotional attachments, marriages, friendships, etc. It allows one to appreciate the exquisite nature of things.

Why are those terms important? Throughout the novel, Pluto and Venus as ruling planets, and the houses are brought up a lot, especially in regard to the murder victims.

Going back to my main point while most of Janina’s actions were fueled by rage and the need to seek revenge for the murder of her daughters and the other undomesticated animals she humanizes; I believe that ultimately she used her faith in astrology to justify her actions. From the beginning of the novel Janina appears peculiar in her overall nature. From the instant shifts from past and present, fragmented stories, and through misquoting William Blake it becomes apparent that she is an unreliable narrator. With every anecdote, she told she was miraculously always portrayed as either the victim or the heroin. Everything was framed just right.

“Secondly: I decided to examine certain highly distinctive pieces of information to be gained from the victims’ cosmograms (commonly known as Horoscopes), and in both cases it appears obvious that they may have been fatally attacked by Animals. This is a very rare configuration of the planets, and thus I have great confidence in commending it to the attention of the Police. I am taking the liberty of enclosing both Horoscopes, in the expectation that the police Astrologer will consult them, and then support my Hypothesis”

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, Page 160

Looking at the above excerpt of the letter Janina sends to the police it becomes clear that she rationalizes the deaths and explains how based on the configurations of the victim’s horoscopes that they were meant to die how they died and when they did. While I may be way off in my thinking, the letters written to the police were used as a way to soothe Janinas conscious in the sense that the letters justified her actions by expressing why she felt little remorse. She did what she thought was befitting and what aligned with their fate that had been expressed in their horoscopes, and it helped her get revenge on the people who wronged her.

The Big Reveal

During one of our group presentations for Drive Your Plow, one of group D’s discussion questions was if Janina being the murder to be expected, along with if it was hinted at throughout the novel and what it says about her character.

In my opinion, at first it wasn’t very obvious, as the book immediately began with Big Foot’s death, so their was no reason to suspect her, although her constant remarks of how he was a horrible person make it seem that it was hinted at in hindsight. I didn’t expect anything until the presidents death, due to the commandant’s death seeming like a hunting accident and not murder. The immediate change of setting to the point where everyone knew that he died and with her asking what killed him, along with providing the scientific name of the beetles that she used is what made me sure that she is the killer. One fin al thing was that after returning from jail back to her house, she is fascinated by a video of a stag attacking a man, and ‘watches it over and over’.

Her being the killer when throughout the novel she preaches about saving and protecting life make her a major hypocrite and make me believe that she values animal lives more than humans to an extent. She also seems to have some psychological issues, referring to herself as the, ‘tool of the animals’ and justifying her murders with the fact that their horoscopes said that they would die. Regardless that her victims are responsible for the death of her dogs, taking life in order to protect others is never the correct answer. Also, as concerned Janina is for protecting animals and not hunting she never provides an alternative means of find food. Despite her being a vegetarian, I’m sure that her diet isn’t sustainable for her whole town or even the world. Finally, she seems to have no problem with animals eating animals, so why humans? We are animals as well so shouldn’t we be just as entitled to hunt as other animals?

Psychological Analysis of Janina

Given that Olga Tokarczuk is a clinical psychologist, and the main character is a murderer, I thought it might be interesting to see if Janina fits the symptoms of some sort of personality disorder or mental illness. Having read several Wikipedia articles, and rescanned over the book, I have come to the conclusion that her psychological characterization is extremely realistic. Janina is a perfect case of someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.

“Cluster B personality disorders involve dramatic and erratic behaviors. People with these types of conditions display intense, unstable emotions and impulsive behaviors.”

Janina fits this characterization to a tee. Consider her emotions during and after the confrontation with the hunters on page 64,

“At that point I felt a surge of Anger, genuine, not to say Divine Anger. It flooded me from inside in a burning-hot wave. This energy made me feel great, as if it were lifting me off the ground, a mini Big Bang within the universe of my body. There was fire burning within me, like a neutron star…. I drove home, weeping out of helplessness.”

To put this quote into more context, the hunters were shooting pheasants. Now, I’m not someone who particularly likes hunting either, but this reaction is far from commensurate with the situation. Janina clearly feels intense, unstable emotions. She also has frequent dramatic, erratic, and impulsive behaviors. Consider her outburst at the City Guard.

“I didn’t feel like speaking anymore. I thrust a hand into my pocket, pulled out a ball of bloodstained Boar bristles, and put it down on the desk in front of them. Their first impulse was to lean forward, but they instantly recoiled in disgust.”

Again, I can feel frustrated with bureaucracy, but I can say with confidence that I have never throw the entrails of a dead boar onto the desk of a bureaucrat, despite how tempting it’s been. Janina clearly exhibits impulsive behavior. So, having narrowed it down to a Cluster B personality disorder, which exact disorder does she exhibit? I don’t think she has borderline personality disorder, as she doesn’t exhibit low self-esteem (quite the opposite really) or any particular relationship difficulty. She also doesn’t seem to need the approval of others, so that’s a no to histrionic personality disorder. She is kind of narcissistic, but, again, she doesn’t need praise or approval from others, so another no to narcissistic personality disorder. Therefore, by process of elimination, I think that she has anti-social personality disorder.

“People with ASPD show a lack of respect toward others and don’t follow socially accepted norms or rules. People with ASPD may break the law or cause physical or emotional harm to others around them. They may refuse to take responsibility for their behaviors and/or display disregard for the negative consequences of their actions.”

To go down the checklist again, Janina seems to have a constant lack of disregard for others and socially accepted norms and rules. Consider the fact that she calls one of her closest friends Oddball. Even to people she likes, she consistently refers to them in derogatory or dismissive terms. If we consider hunting as a socially acceptable norm and activity in rural Poland, her hatred of it can be seen as her refusal to follow socially accepted norms and rules. This is also evidenced by her robbing Bigfoot’s house at the beginning of the book (how many people, even to someone they dislike, would snoop around a dead man’s house looking for their ID card and stuff to take?), and, of course, she breaks the law by murdering people. For the final few criteria, of refusing to take responsibility for their behaviors and displaying disregard for the negative consequences of their actions, notice that Janina has said, repeatedly, throughout the book, that animals were taking their revenge on the murder victims. She is an unreliable narrator, and she doesn’t mention that she is the murderer until the very end, this seems like a refusal to take responsibility for her behavior to me. And consider some of her interactions with her victims.

“I took him under the arm and dragged him to his feet. ‘Why are you crying?’ I asked. ‘You’re so kind…’ ‘I know,’ I replied.”

For context, she said this to a man she was about to summarily murder. She never expresses regret for her crimes, and she doesn’t seem to realize the negative consequences of her murders. I think all of this is very convincing evidence for her having ASPD.

Animals vs. Humans: Who does she care for?

Janina our main character loves animals, she loves them so much that she defends them on a daily basis. But how does she feel about human beings? We know she loves children and she feels that teaching a child up to the age of 10 is very important because you can install your beliefs in them, and try to shape them (114). But we also know that she likes Dizzy, even though she calls him fragile and small with girlish hands, but on pg.75 she says “I had always cared about Dizzy very much, and I didn’t want him to take me for a lunatic. Not him.” This shows me that Dizzy as a person has a good relationship with Janina, because of their connection with Blake, but also because they believe in each other. But what about Oddball, I mean he had been Janina’s neighbor ever since she moved there. She does seem to be friendly with him, but when she was telling him about his theory of the animal killing humans, he told her to keep her theory to herself (not knowing that no animals did the killing) and that it could do her harm. But the fact is that she felt hurt by his statement, maybe because he didn’t believe what she felt that she was doing helping the animals, or maybe it’s the fact that he cared.

A pattern I saw in Janina’s choice of friends was that they don’t harm animals like the other kind of humans she doesn’t like. They don’t hunt and maybe they eat meat, but we don’t know that they do. Although Janina didn’t know Boros, she did see that he didn’t like that people would harm the trees that the insects lived in. And even he felt a way when she asked him which insect is more useful (135). He didn’t like that, and they connected more when he said “From nature’s point of view no creatures are useful or not useful. That’s just a foolish distinction applied by people.” From that point, I think Janina liked him even more. Janina may not have a lot of friends but the friends she does have, connect with her. Even a person that wasn’t in the book for long was a little shop assistant who was wearing a fake fur hat, which Janina pointed out to us. That was how their friendship began. Even if it was a small encounter I believe that Janina liked her because of the fake fur hat.

It’s clear that Janina thinks of animals as humans, and will do anything for them. (Like Kill). But I don’t think of Janina any different from when I was first introduced to her. I still have compassion for her. And even if she doesn’t like humans that much, she has really good friends that are human.

The Unreliable Narrator in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

In Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Tokarczuk uses the literary device of an unreliable narrator to create a shocking plot twist to her novel. At the novel’s beginning, we are introduced to our narrator, Janina, an older woman in touch with nature and enamored with astrology. Tokarczuk puts the reader in Janina’s mind throughout the whole story. However, she can still develop a shocking ending through how she writes about Janina. 

From the very first chapter of the novel, Janina is already withholding information from the reader. After finding Big Foot dead and preparing his body, Janina starts searching his house. She ends up finding a picture in his drawer. Instead of letting the reader know what she’s seeing, Tokarczuk chooses to focus on how Janina feels and how her emotions take over her. In a longer paragraph, Tokarczuk writes that Janina can’t think properly, her ears are ringing, and she feels ready to fight someone. She goes on more about her emotions but never ends up telling the reader what was in the picture until the penultimate chapter. By bringing the photograph up so early in the story and hardly mentioning it again until the end, the reader forgets about the picture. We learn later that the picture contained Janina’s primary motive for killing all of the people who died mysteriously in this story. 

Throughout this novel, Janina believes that the animals and nature are taking revenge on these men and are killing them. She creates a very detailed theory that seems insane to the characters and the reader. By having a narrator that seems crazy and irrational, the reader kind of writes off the narrator as insane and does not see Janina’s true character. All in all, creating a mystery novel where the narrator ends up being the murderer is very hard to do. There is so much information withheld from the reader to lead up to the plot twist, but the story still feels very developed and intriguing. 

Why Are Animal Rights An Important Aspect of Social Justice?

The animal rights movement, also known as the animal advocacy or liberation movement focuses on removing, or at least minimizing the discrepancy between human and animals moral and legal rights. Essentially, this means removing the term that animals are property, but also helping prevent unjust research, and use of animals for clothing, food, and entertainment. The treatment and exploitation of animals in modern society (particularly animal testing and factories), encouraged animal rights groups and animal advocates to take action in order to achieve animal equity. 

Although, “Animal rights means that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation. Animal welfare allows these uses as long as “humane” guidelines are followed” (Peta). The idea of mutual recognition is also key to this social movement. The fundamental belief of animal liberationists is that animals deserve recognition, protection, and moral and legal rights as well. 

Altogether the movement inspired many people to lead cruelty-free lifestyles, but more importantly inspired those that value animal morality to help demand regulation and reformation of the legislature for animal rights. 

The novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, heavily captures the ideas of animal justice and regulation through the perspective of animal enthusiast and narrator, Janina. However, the story also demonstrates the opposition, and viewpoint of those anti-animal rights. Power dynamics between Janina and anti-animal rights become relevant in many instances. For example, Janina and law enforcement seem to always be at odds, which is always due to unfair treatment of animals. 

Similarly, Janina despises the priest, Father Rustle, for justifiable reasons. Father Rustle describes how interconnected church and hunters are, that he as a priest particularly praises hunters. As a result, Janina becomes extremely angry and begins shouting during mass because she knows what hunters are up to in the town. As a result, she expresses, “I felt someone’s hand on my arm and saw that one of the men in uniform was standing behind me. I pulled away, but then a second one ran up and they both grabbed me firmly  by the arms” (243). In the story, it is clear that those in favor of animal morality are viewed as less, and especially are perceived in a different light. 

At one point, Janina was talking to Father Rustle before knowing he contributed to the death of her girls. Father Rustle argues that “‘It’s wrong to treat animals as if they were people. It’s a sin– this sort of graveyard is the result of human pride. God gave animals a lower rank, in the service of man’’” (236). Even while knowing Janina loves animals, Father Rustle makes it a point that he believes animals are not as worthy as human beings. Janina then asks what she must do to stop mourning the death of her dogs and heal from this tragedy, but simply suggests praying is the only solution. Then Father Rustle states that “‘Animals don’t have souls, they are not immortal. They shall not know salvation’” (236). 

William Blake and Janina’s Legacies

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker who lived in England from 1757-1827. He was largely unrecognized during his life but is now seen as a prominent figure in the poetry and art of the Romantic Age. Blake was considered to be “mad” by his contemporaries and other people who worked alongside him, he later became highly regarded for his creativity and forward thinking. His goal in writing his poetry was to create change in the social order and in the minds of men. 

Blake’s views and goals for his work are very similar to Janina’s in Plow. Janina’s goal by writing this book and introducing us into her world was supposedly in an effort to tell her side of the story and state her distaste in regards to the accepted norms of their society. Her original goal was seemingly to speak out against the men who hunted and poached, which was a risk because those are some of the greatest values in their society. She was continually discounted and underestimated by men and authority figures throughout the book, similar to Blake. She was also called “crazy” and a “madwoman” and not valued, just like Blake. 

However, throughout the course of Janina’s telling of her story, she veers away from radical ideas and begins to act radically. She starts killing the hunters and the people who support and uphold the laws of society instead of simply writing and publishing work about her beliefs. While Janina’s original actions and motivation may have been similar to Blake and his experiences with society discounting him, Janina takes it a step too far. Because she murders and has given up on trying to change her society through peaceful ways, there is very little chance of her becoming recognized as a foundational figure in a movement or being considered a visionary like Blake. She couldn’t accept the fact that her ideas were being rejected by her society and so, unlike Blake who left his work to be found and researched to garner support and value after his death, Janina’s work and view have now all been overshadowed by the fact that she murdered people to prove her point. She wasn’t willing ro give the world a chance to grow and change and eventually come back to her ideas. Instead she took matters into her own hands and now her ideas and work have a dark shadow cast over them forever.