The Deer at Provedencia

I don’t know quite what to make of Annie Dillard’s Deer at Provedencia. The essay begins with a description of a young deer tethered outside Provedencia’s surrounding gate. Dillard quickly notes that, “The deer had scratched its own neck with its hooves [in an attempt to escape]. The raw underside of its neck showed red stripes and some bruises bleeding inside the muscles.” Yet, despite her intense fascination with the deer, Dillard extends no compassion toward its plight. Dillard’s clinical interest with the deer leaves her fellow travelling companions puzzled. They cannot understand how she tolerates such suffering.

“Gentleman of the city, what surprises you? That there is suffering here, or that I know of it?” Dillard inquires. Dillard’s question is formidable. It challenges the hypocrisy of human sympathy. At least, I think so. Dillard’s question exposes a cultural more that most Westerners, especially Western women, share – the more of compulsory outrage. The construct of compulsory outrage is this: whenever an injustice is discovered, regardless of context, it is our duty to protest the transgression. Failure to protest suggests moral deviance. By accepting the deer’s suffering, Dillard leaves her companions baffled. They expect her to protest, to raise hell, until the deer is afforded better living conditions, regardless of the fact that in a day’s time it will be nothing more than a heaping plate of gama.

Okay, that much I understand. It’s the part right at the very end I don’t get. In the paragraphs leading up to the end, Dillard recounts a story she read about a man, Alan McDonald, who was burned not once, but twice, during his life. Dillard then goes on to say that at the end of the article, McDonald’s wife protests, “Man, it just isn’t fair.”

In response, Dillard writes, “Will someone please explain to Alan McDonald in his dignity, to the deer at Provedencia in his dignity, what is going on?” That is why I am confused. Is Dillard’s question sarcastic? An assertion of divine happenstance? Or, is Dillard’s question alluding to a greater cosmic design? Cosmic design that dictates the deer be eaten, the man be burned, and the world’s injustices be perpetrated?       


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