Am I Blue

About the Story: “Am I Blue” deals with a horse – Blue, who used to live a dreary and weary life in five beautiful but fenced acres. The narrator started feeding Blue apples which the horse would relish. After some time, Brown, a mare, was also brought there. Blue felt excited and elated to have a companion and began leading a blissful life. But Brown was taken away from there when she became pregnant. It came as a jolt from the blue for the horse and a total change took place in his life. The horse may not have experienced in its full complexity the kind of shock the writer attributes to him, but he certainly felt greatly disturbed when the mate was taken away from the grassy field where he had now to live all by himself. He had certainly developed a deep attachment for the mare and missed her badly. Alice Walker makes us aware through this story of the emotional needs which animals do have and the bonds of affection they develop for each other. We are generally obtuse and selfish in our attitude towards the animals and callously reduce their being to a few gross appetites. But the more important aspect of the meaning of the whole story lies in the fact that the horse becomes a symbol of those oppressed and neglected sections of humanity which are treated like animals. It is a symbol of oppressed humanity that the feelings attributed to the horse gain the special significance.

We can then understand how the horse developed a deep dislike for humanity and its selfish ways. The writer actually highlights the selfishness and the gross obtuseness with which racists treat the African – Americans and the bigoted male chauvinists treat women. The story thus sensitizes us to the needs of all those whom we treat as others. It takes due recognition of the fact that animals also suffer mentally and emotionally. The story reveals the callousness which we unconsciously show when we treat animals as commodities and not as living creatures who also undergo emotional and psychological turmoil just like us. Alice Walker also touches indirectly upon the sensitive issues of slavery and racism in this story.

Summary of the Poem

The narrator and his friend rented a small house at a beautiful spot with extensive grassy fields around the house. It had several windows which would provide a scenic view of the place. The narrator saw his closest neighbour – a large white horse who was grazing the grass and enjoying its walk. The horse, Blue, would stroll about in the five acres of fenced land where he could graze and move about. The owner of the house used to live somewhere else and Blue was reared up by the narrator’s next door neighbour. Sometimes, somebody could be seen riding on Blue and then pat on its flanks.

The narrator and his companion started feeding apples to Blue which he would enjoy. Blue would come and stand by the apple tree and on seeing the narrator or his companion would whine, breathe noisily and produce loud sound by thumping the ground with his feet. This meant that he wanted apples. The narrator would also enjoy collecting apples and holding them before Blue. The writer in this way makes us aware of the full existence of the horse. We get to know how animals also want company and love to receive affectionate attention from those around them. In fact the horse loomed large in the narrator’s mind and he himself felt rather small before that “broad-breasted enormity”. He also recollected his childhood riding: how he was thrown from the horse and how he fell against the tree. He recalled that the members of his family did not consider riding safe for him. After that he preferred walking to horse riding.

The narrator did not know earlier how deeply horses could also feel. He found that the life of Blue was terribly lonely and boring. The narrator regretted having overlooked the fact that all living beings, including animals, could communicate with one another. Living with animals in our childhood can make us sharply aware of this, but by the time we are grown up, we tend to forget all this and usually shut out the animal world from our minds. The narrator rightly calls animals “completed creations” as they do not change with the passage of time. He maintained that animals communicate in their own way but human beings ignore that. Now, however, he could understand Blue’s eyes and his need of apples and for affectionate companions.

The narrator also brings in the issue of racial differences prevalent in U.S.A. He tells us how a black woman who looks after and nurses a white infant just like her child is later ignored or treated as other. Her sweat and hardships are forgotten and she is called “old mammy” when these infants grow up. Even a white woman would treat her in the same manner as if she is not a fellow human being, but an inferior being. She would express her failure to understand Negroes because their race is different. She would not even understand what the black people really wanted. For her, they are no more than objects who can move about on their own, do certain types of work when fed with instructions. She may also look upon them as ferocious and treacherous wild beasts against whom she has to keep herself constantly on guard. The narrator added that Indians were also treated “like animals” by those whites who believed in their racial superiority. The narrator observes that those Americans who marry non-English speaking women lead a joyous life initially. They, however, fail to maintain that happiness when their wives start learning English because the language makes them sharply aware of the feelings of racial superiority which were implicit in the whole mindset of their husbands but which did not come to the fore in their personal behaviour earlier. In some cases, this leads to a break down of the marriage relationship. Before learning the same language, these people could communicate effectively within a limited range of experience and lead a blissful life. The narrator also felt annoyed on seeing older people disapproving of the tendency among their young children to play and listen to the music of the oppressed African-Americans.

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The narrator did not know for how long Blue had been leading a secluded life in those five beautiful but “boring acres”. However, in the second year after they had occupied that house, a change took place when Blue got the companionship of Brown – a brown mare. In the beginning, Blue hesitated to go near her, but after some days, he started moving about near Brown and making friendly advances towards her. They would amble or gallop together. Now, Blue won’t come to the apple tree as often as he used to do earlier. He had a different look and appeared free and contented with himself. Brown had brought about this magical change. This shows how close even animals are to human beings. But a racist society did not acknowledge the claims of friendship and inter-dependence which the African-American people could make on the whites. The narrator would feed both Blue and Brown and a mutual understanding developed between him and the horses. This relationship was based on acknowledgement of the mutuality and equality between human being and their fellow creatures who lived close to them. After some time Brown became pregnant, the purpose for which she had been brought near Blue for a temporary period.

One day the narrator found Blue waiting for someone. He shook the apple tree but Blue did not move. He, then, carried a few apples to Blue. Blue half-crunched the one and let the others fall on the ground. When he looked into Blue’s eyes, he found the expression of a person whose partner had either been auctioned like a slave or killed. He learnt that Brown was brought there only for the limited purpose of being impregnated and since the purpose had been served, she was taken back to her owner.

After his separation from Brown, Blue started behaving in an abnormal manner. He would gallop furiously and whine until he was tired. He would also hit the ground with his hooves and butted himself against the tree. He would gaze towards the road down which Brown had been taken away. He had a piercing and sad look that would compel the narrator to take pity on those people who were insensitive to the pain of animals. He thought that there were people who never thought of animals’ rights but used and abused them. And they meted out a similar treatment to women who, they were taught, were there to be treated with violence and contempt like the animals. They could be raped and mutilated with immunity. Such people were misguided by their elders who taught them that “women can’t think” and “niggers can’t faint”.

After his unforeseen and abrupt separation from Brown, Blue usually had a depressed look which was agonizing. He also seemed to be full of hatred for mankind and for life as such. This unusual look turned him into a real beast which, as the narrator knew earlier, he was not earlier. Blue had really erected a barrier between himself and the human world around him in order to save himself from further violence or injustice. After that Blue was reduced to the status merely of a beautiful object of that landscape – nice to look at. One day a friend of the narrator saw Blue and observed that it was a symbol of freedom. It compelled the narrator to think that animals were merely “images” for people and not living creatures. He thought that people consumed milk, eggs, etc. but never thought about the feelings of those who produced those things. Such thoughts made the narrator feel sick and he could not swallow the steaks which he had started eating and threw them away after the first bite which he spat out immediately.

Short-Answer Questions

Question 1: What are the physical features of Blue before which the narrator feels small?

Answer: Blue, the closest neighbour of the narrator, was a large white horse that was fed with apples by the narrator. The narrator would feel small before the enormous size of the horse because as soon as one took into account his full existence, he became more impressive and beautiful than the smaller-sized narrator. Blue had flexible dark lips, huge, cublike-teeth and high, broad-breasted size. The muscular and giant body of Blue would leave the narrator feel petty before him.

Question 2: Why does the narrator prefer walking to riding on horseback?

Answer: The narrator was quite fond of riding a horse in his childhood. One day, when he was riding on Nan, his favourite mare, his brother intentionally frightened Nan and she threw the narrator against the trunk of a tree. His head struck against the tree and he fell unconscious. He had to have bed rest for a few days. He was advised not to ride a horse because it was not safe for him. After that accident the narrator preferred walking to riding on horseback. He developed towards the horses an attitude of shrewd caution which became a barrier in any kind of communication between him and the horses.

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Question 3: What feelings were evoked in the narrator by the bored expression of the horse in summer?

Answer: The secluded and weary life of Blue in summer shocked the narrator. Although the horse had five beautiful acres grassy land where he could tramp yet he did not feel happy there. The narrator also felt startled when he realized that he had forgotten how animals could communicate. Man can change, he formed new opinions, but animals generally did not change much because it was their nature to be authentically and fully themselves and express their full being in whatever they did.

Question 4: Why does the writer call animals “completed creations”?

Answer: The writer calls animals “completed creations” because it is their basic disposition to express themselves as they are and not partially. Man, in his childhood, can learn how effectively animals communicate but he tends to forget this when he grows up. But animals don’t change and continue to express themselves fully in all their gestures. Man grows and develops, adds new dimensions to his being through history. Animals, on the other hand, remain fully formed as nature makes them. Theirs is not a partially formed being. The fact that animals never change their disposition makes them “completed creations”.

Question 5: What change did the arrival of a brown companion bring in Blue’s attitude?

Answer: When a brown mare was brought in that five acre grassy plot, Blue’s life got transformed. He did not become friendly with Brown immediately. However, after a few days they became good friends and started ambling and galloping together. Blue became busy with his new companion Brown. He even stopped coming under the apple tree to fraternise with the narrator, because he was no longer lonely and bored. He appeared independent, self-satisfied and had a particular look of his own which made the onlooker feel that he had a sense of well-being in full measure.

Question 6: Why did Blue stop eating apple? What more changes followed in him?

Answer: Blue spent a blissful life with his partner Brown until she was taken away from the grassy land after she had become pregnant. Now, he turned desperate and started making crazy gestures. He felt desolate and was emotionally shattered. He stopped eating apples offered by the narrator because of a sense of apathy that had settled on him. In his desperation, he would gallop furiously, whine continuously till he was exhausted. He often struck the ground angrily with his hooves. He would also butt himself against the tree. His eyes remained glued towards the road down which his companion had been taken away.

Question 7: ‘All the apples in the world would not change that fact’, says the narrator. What fact?

Answer: Blue could not bear separation from Brown and felt emotionally broken. He started behaving in an altogether different manner when he lost the company of Brown. His eyes were full of despair and hopelessness. He felt a void within him which could not be filled with anything. Eating apples from the hands of the narrator looked a very paltry thing as compared to the loss he had suffered. Even hundred apples or more could be of no significance to him now. His eyes seemed to be filled with disgust for all humans because of the cruelty done to him by those who had taken away Brown from him. He did not, therefore, feel like fraternizing with the narrator any more. He, too, was one of the humans, after all. These changes which had taken place in him under the impact of despair gave him the look of a real beast. This would not change even if he was given all the apples in the world. Actually, he had created a special barrier between himself and human beings to save himself from further violence.

Question 8: ‘Looking out the window at the fog that lay like a ribbon over the meadow, I saw another horse’. What figure of speech has been used here?

Answer: The figure of speech used in this line is a simile. A similarity has been drawn between the line of fog and a ribbon laid over the meadow. Further, the writer has used imagery in this line because the simile links two images here. An image is a picture created out of words. In other words, it is a mental image that a reader experiences while reading a literary work. For the vehicle of the simile, an image has been created in “the fog that lay like a ribbon over the meadow”. The image of the ribbon brings out the contrast between the grassy land and the stretched line of fog.

Long-Answer Questions

Question 1: The writer says about animals: ‘They are in fact ‘complete’ creations (at least they seem to be, so much more than we) who are not likely to change’. What light does this observation threw on the comparative ways of humans and animals?

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Answer: “Am I Blue” describes an important episode in the life of Blue – a horse. It shows how an animal feels and to what extent he suffers due to indifference of man. The real purpose of the writer in this story is to make us realize that animals are not merely sub-human or an inferior and partial for existence which would make them negligible beings when compared to human. Actually they have full and complete being which is different from that of human being but not inferior to them. In some ways, their existence is in fact better than that of human beings, if we keep the comparison limited to quality like need for companionship and the sense of acute loss that separation from a companion brings. Not many human beings will suffer as much as Blue does, when separated from Brown by the cruel and selfish human beings. Animals are complete beings in another sense. They do not pretend, they are what they are, authentically there.

Question 2: How does the writer interweave slavery and inter-racial marriage into the plot?

Answer: In “Am I Blue” Alice Walker interweaves slavery and inter-racial marriage in a skillful and effective manner. She brings forth the pitiable condition of the AfricanAmericans who were ill-treated by those believing in their racial superiority and reduced them to a sub-human status very much like what many of us do in the case of animals. Our treatment of animals becomes a powerful symbol of racial obtuseness and racial subjugation. The story brings out the similarity between our inferiorizing treatment of animals and the attitude of those white women towards the African-American women who brought up and looked after their children as nurses and wet mothers. These black mummies are soon forgotten and sold to some other families when they become useless for them. The white woman would also express herinability to understand Negroes for being different in colour and features. Alice Walker further states that the black women were misused by their white owners in the same way as Blue was used by the owners of Brown. They were used by the white racists to gratify their carnal desires and later would be ignored completely as if they never existed for them.

Those Americans lead a “happy” life who marry non-English speaking people so long as their spouses don’t know English language and can be treated as subhuman pets. But they fail to enjoy their life when their partners learn English and start speaking it. This type of inter-racial marriages which are not based on the full recognition of the human dignity of the spouse become a curse and lead to divorces.

Question 3: What prompts the narrator to say: ‘I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out’?

Answer: Alice Walker has depicted the cold and mean attitude of man towards animals in “Am I Blue”. The narrator in the story is quite concerned about Blue and his shocked state of vacuity after his companion Brown is taken away from him. He could share the feelings of dejection and emptiness in the life of Blue. He feels ashamed of the kind of ill treatment human beings give to animals without any sense of guilt or uneasiness. The whole attitude of Blue undergoes a change and a look of disgust for mankind could be seen in his eyes for the entire humanity. This is responsible for the uneasiness and disgust the narrator feels for himself as a human being and forces him to spit out the morsel he had taken to his mouth.

The narrator felt pained and guilty when he realized that for most men animals were merely images and they ignored their feelings as living beings. Their life is made short, laborious and miserable by mercenary men who discard them as and when they become useless for them. Man consumes milk, eggs and other eatables given by animals but he never cares for them for their own sake. All this filled the narrator with a sense of disgust and he spat out the morsel after he had taken only the first bite.

Question 4: What is the theme of the story “Am I Blue”? What lesson does it convey?

Answer: In “Am I Blue” Alice Walker has enabled us to feel the powerful emotional shock which animals have to bear because of indifferent and mean treatment they receive from human beings. The story also puts forward the plea that man should rise above the selfish and opportunistic attitude which he has adopted towards animals. Man should consider them as living creatures who ought to recognize the full stature of their being. He should particularly take cognizance of the fact that animals have strong ties of affection and companionship and they also have a sturdy sense of independence which should be respected. We should also not ignore the ways by which animals try to communicate with one another and even with human beings who live close to them. The story makes a plea that animals should not be used as mere objects for personal gains.

The story also throws light on the racial differences prevalent in the American society. It shows the commodification of the African-Americans who were ill-treated by the racist whites. “Am I Blue” further presents the problem of inter-racial marriages which are not based on recognition of parity of status of the spouse.

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