This story honestly confused me a lot. I kept wondering who was who, why the dad left, and why Cal kept saying he’d make a life change but never did. I did like that the title of Cougar did fit into the story with the use of the actual animal coming around and basically ruining Cal’s life. However, the aspect I want to talk about is the idea on whether or not the Dad and Koda the dog killed themselves or not. At first, I thought the dad had just left, never really considering that he might’ve killed himself. But as the story progressed, that plot point made a lot more sense.
When Jenny makes his point of, “You know, maybe your dad did kill himself. Maybe it’s best to think that… I think Koda maybe went that way too” (pg. 13) it all starts to make sense. Cal’s dad had this tough life, where he fought for himself and his son, but nothing seemed to come out of it. So maybe it was just easier for him. And then Koda loses the dad, and then she gets attacked by the cougar. And after Cal accidentally hits her and not the cougar, she’s already injured and hurt. She goes back out into that forest and submits to the cougar. She could’ve just remained inside, but she goes back out there and is then killed by the cougar. I wonder is she was giving up, or if she just felt like she’d had a good enough time here, and it was time for her to go. But I also wonder if maybe both the dad and Koda were trying to protect Cal. It seems like they left, knowing what could happen, but they still went. It might’ve pushed Cal to make the changes he needed in his life.
While this story was incredibly saddening, I very much love the way it was written and told. The constant feeling of being inadequate and isolated made me continue to wish for something good to finally happen for the narrator. At the beginning of the story he seems content with his simple life, but once his father spots the cougar and goes missing, everything starts to fall apart. There’s a constant theme of death and finite-ness to this story; the father goes missing, presumably dead, the dog dies, and the landlord is actively withering away in front of Cal’s eyes. At first Cal considers his life to still be somewhat decent, but after talking to and old friend and the grandmother at the restaurant he starts to consider and wish for things he hadn’t before. There’s a constant feeling of inadequacy; the dad’s business starts to go under, the dog is denied her ancestral “job” as a herder, the narrator starts to question if his life is shit, he saves up to move out for a job he didn’t initially want, but then when money gets tight is then unable to go get it, therefore failing to get the beach house in Florida. The waving cat is also a reoccurring symbol for the narrator, end everyone’s, desire to push away their worries and hopefully eventually live a stress free life, but the cat is only a reminder of how we will never achieve that.
“Cougar” by Maria Anderson is an interesting short story that features so many repeated points that create some kind of meaning for the story. I was really drawn to a couple of different pieces of the story that kept showing up at little moments that could almost seem insignificant compared to the cougar figure. I was interested in how at the beginning, the narrator’s father always kept a pink healing quartz on the steps of their front porch that he’d found deep in the woods one day. Later, after the father had passed away the neighbor/landlord Jenny kept tripping over the rock every time he came over to collect rent payments. This kept happening over and over in the story so I figured it must be significant. I feel like it was something that the father left behind to remind everyone that he still had some permanence in people’s lives. Even when Jenny got frustrated and threw the quartz, it still rolled back out of the woods. This also clicked in my mind when Koda was gone and her fur kept showing up to remind the narrator of her.
Another aspect of the story that interested me was the whole different kinds of hurt. The hurt the narrator is feeling with the loss of his father is huge and was wondering if the hurt that came from a toe would feel better than what he was feeling and thus distract him from it. This came up again when Koda died. He stuck his hands into boiling water so they’d become covered in burns.
This story was both compelling and disturbing. The main character, Cal, seems stuck in a life that he never really chose, but he doesn’t seem too inclined to get out of either (though arguably he has few options). I think what struck me initially was the feeling of monotony that surrounded his life, especially after his father dies. There seems to be a focus on both loving and destroying. This is apparent through the relationship Cal’s father (and the trailer park/neighborhood) has with the dying the logging town; though much of it has been destroyed, there is still a love for the woods for the feeling of being outdoors that Cal’s dad has, even though much of the trees in that area have already been cut down (some of it due to him). It is also shown through Cal’s life choices, he stays working at a Chinese restaurant that pays him very little and offers him no way to move upwards; he is stuck in the life his father left him with and in many ways this is destructive to his mental wellbeing. Perhaps, one could blame his father for taking part in the destruction of his life, the monotony and lack of motivation to move elsewhere. However, most noticeably is the cougar. The cat kills both the neighbor’s horse and Cal’s dog, but in doing so it makes no apologies. I think Jenny even says that: “I’m not sure any animal deserves getting shot for being hungry…nope, I’m not sure it does at all” (12). The cougar is, perhaps, symbolic of a man (maybe Cal, maybe more generally) living in a world as he needs to in order to survive, and doing so unapologetically.
Journal #9 – Cougar
This story was easy for me to read, mostly due to the sad emotional appeal that Anderson had developed around the character Cal. From the beginning I was compelled by the story, and the way the Anderson uses the setting to develop the mood and emotion for the characters. The characters live in a trailer park, just two trailers and a bunch of wooded land behind their park. The author explains how there isn’t much going on at this park, and that is how it seems the main character, Cal, feels as well, like there isn’t much going on in his life. Cal has been living without his parents, it never says but it eludes that his father committed suicide, building even more onto the sadness surrounding this characters life at the trailer. I felt compelled to read this story, hoping for a glimmer of happiness to fall onto this character. There isn’t much going on in Cal’s life, his dad had been gone for a while and all he does is goes to work washing dishes, lives with his dog Koda, and smokes some cigarettes with his neighbor Jenny. The cigarette smoking was something I found interesting in this story, much like the Cathedral story we read earlier. For some reason, this author repeats the action of smoking cigarettes throughout the story, giving us some insight of things being tough for them without overtly saying it in words. Another interesting piece in this story was when Cal scratched all of the smiling mouths off of his school pictures. This gave me a deep insight to how Cal was feeling about himself, again, without the author needing to say how rough things really were.
In this short story, the very first thing I pick up on is the cougar as a metaphor for Cal’s father. When he goes on this journey, every aspect of it is either a metaphor for his father or a metaphor for his relationship with his father. The cougar can be imagined as either his father in the literal sense or it can be thought of as Cal’s relationship and connection (or lack thereof) with his father. Personally, I have a stronger belief in the latter. The first time I see this metaphor emerge is on page 2 after it has been accepted that the father is gone for good when Cal picks up the .22 semiautomatic and points it out the window in hopes that the “cougar” will choose that precise moment to walk past him. I think that this is supposed to mean that if the father were to walk back into his life at that exact second, Cal would not want to accept him back into his life because of all that he had put him through. Then on the next page, Cal talks about how he “searched for weeks, ignoring [his] busted foot.” To me, this is a sign that he just wants to find out what happened to his father for closure so he is ignoring the pain that he has caused him. I also recognize Koda as a symbol for the last remaining threads of hope or bits of innocence that Cal has left, when the cougar inevitably killed the defenseless dog.
In “Cougar” by Maria Anderson, the most pervasive literary tool I noticed was the pervasive symbolism. Citrus fruit, for instance, appeared in the form of a good luck lemon, in the cougars eyes, and the shrine in the restaurant. The cougar, of course, is the most relevant symbol throughout the story. The cougar mirrors the process of grief the narrator goes through. It is symbolic of possible threat and something sinister. However, it is also deeply misunderstood. It is carnivorous because it is hungry, and therefore the violence it commits cannot be its own fault. In many ways, the cougar is representative of the narrator’s incapability to place blame on anything or anyone in order to process his grief. Even when he tries to do this (to avenge Koda), he only manages to harm himself— which is clear through the burns that present themselves on his hands. “‘I’m not sure an animal deserves getting shot for being hungry,’said
Jenny. ‘Nope, I’m not sure it does at all.’”I resolved to go out on my own but lost my nerve.” (p.85) However, the cougar is a reminder of the narrator’s helplessness— and of his inability to place blame on anyone or anything meaningful. The cougar is elusive, and yet, it is a survivor like him. In this way, the narrator cannot help but feel compassion for the living things around him. Like when he goes to drop off the trash, and feel sorry for the living things there. And yet, we know the narrator’s prerogative is survival— this undermines all else: quality of life, happiness, or compassion. Again, this is a reflection of the cougar— who also cannot help but survive.
Journal #9: Cougar by Maria Anderson is a story about a young man named Cal trying to continue his life after his father goes missing. The story’s gradual slide into further and further depression never stops throughout its run. Cal’s father disappears, the cougar kills his dog Koda, and Cal loses his job. The imagery of the small logging town dying with poverty and its own failed economy makes it feel very real, like it is a place I can find somewhere in the real world. It is very atmospheric and draws you in with its unwillingness to flinch away from the reality of a terrible situation that continues to spiral out of control.
I really really really like Cougar by Maria Anderson for a multitude of reasons including but not limited to, the writing style which reminded me of Sherman Alexies writing styles. the setting of rural poverty stricken Montana logging town is both a interesting place for a story and somehow at the same time being incredibly boring. Lastly the plot is something i very much enjoyed the commentary on the nightmare that is being below the poverty line in america, showing the struggle to make ends meet, how even if you work hard everything can still go wrong for you. It portrays the inescapable crushing bleakness that is attempting to get by in this situation and grimly seems to imply that suicide is a legitimate escape
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