Summer Reading Response: Gaston

In “Gaston,” William Saroyan displays how anthropocentrism and realism can work together to eliminate empathy for living creatures and other people. In this piece, we follow a young girl who is visiting her father in Paris. From the nature of this visit, we can clearly see that this girl lives primarily with her mother in New York. Immediately, Saroyan depicts the contrast between her mother and father’s parenting styles. Her father seems to be a dreamer; he appears to be down to earth, connected to nature, and laid back. Her mother, on the other hand, seems to be a realist; she is city-oriented, she frowns upon her ex’s “foolishness”, and she prioritizes humans over other species. Since the little girl is used to being around her mother, she initially sees Gaston as her mother would—she sees it as a gross, inferior bug. However, after her father personifies the bug and calls it “Gaston, the grand boulevardier” (p. 2), she grows to admire and respect it. Unfortunately, her mother then calls the little girl, and convinces her that Gaston is just a “horrible peach bug of some kind” (p. 4) and that her father is foolish. Not only does this negatively impact the daughter’s relationship with her father, but it alters her perspective on living creatures. She starts to take an anthropocentric view on the bug—she treats it as inferior and squishes it. In doing so, she is showing a lack of empathy towards this bug, and also towards her father. In our society, we have developed egotistical ideas that humans are superior to all living creatures. In reality, every species is doing its part to protect and respect the ecosystem they live in—except for humans. All animals, whether a whale or an insect, have a role to play. However, in our colonialist, capitalist, western society, humans have decided that they are supreme beings. When this girl’s father introduced her to this bug, he was attempting to restore her intrinsic relationship with living creatures, as well as her relationship with him. Despite those efforts, she was influenced by her mother to dismiss Gaston and her father. This anthropocentrism serves as a metaphor for her relationship with her father; she admires and respects her father when they bond, but then dismisses him when her mother acts as if she’s the superior parent. Ultimately, this piece exemplifies the toxicity that emerges from beliefs of superiority.

2 thoughts on “Summer Reading Response: Gaston”

  1. Hi Amy!! I didn’t really think about anthropocentrism when I read this piece, but I do agree with you after reading your response. I especially liked this sentence, “this anthropocentrism serves as a metaphor for her relationship with her father; she admires and respects her father when they bond, but then dismisses him when her mother acts as if she’s the superior parent.” I was focusing more on the emotional impact that little girl feels when she realizes she cannot have both parents together. You made your point clear and I think it is a very important aspect of the story that is very worth reflecting on. Great job!!!

  2. Great post Amy! I liked how you emphasized the main idea influenced within the story, that humans are superior to other creatures. Your extreme use of description was helpful, and prevented me from having to take another look at the story to see whether your reflection matched the story’s content. Great job!

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