Rick Bass’s short story Antlers is about much more than just the ethics of hunting, and even though its plot is vague, the story is still rich with symbolic meaning. In the story, Bass provides a glimpse of the life of a group of people, living in a small, secluded town. Bass’s story is an example of how humanity has rejected and lost its primal roots, and how confused it gets when interacting with the last remnants of animal instincts. There came a time when human beings came up with the idea that they are distinct and at a higher status than then the rest of the animal kingdom. Human beings have rejected their nature for centuries. However, human beings fail to realize that primal calls and instincts still pulse within them. Bass uses several symbolic motifs, such as the antlers and the bow, as an allusion to this theme.
Both the antlers and the bow are related to the subject of hunting, which seems to be the most obvious theme of the story, however, both objects have a deeper, symbolic meaning. For instance, the literal significance of the antlers is merely as a hunting trophy. However, the use of the antlers by the townsfolk every Halloween instead of costumes and how they “bang their antlers against each other in mock battle” is a symbolic allusion to the primal instincts that pulse within every human being. Even though it is for one night, strapping those antlers on their heads actually brings out the animal instincts in the townsfolk; it brings them closer to their true nature. For one night only, those antlers made them behave almost like wild animals. Even Bass admits that, “antlers on [their] heads bobbing and weaving, [made them] a fine target for anyone who might not have understood that [they] weren’t wild animals.”
The literal significance of the bow that Randy uses for hunting is nothing more than hunting equipment. However, Bass uses the bow to symbolize the entanglement that human beings have created for themselves because their conflict with the natural world. The bow serves as a symbolic representation of Randy’s closeness to his primal instincts. Despite living in the same town, since the townsfolk use rifles to their advantage to make it easier for them to hunt, they have estranged their primal nature. Similarly, Randy prefers bowhunting over rifle hunting, and the bow becomes a link to his primal nature. Unlike rifle hunting, when Randy is hunting using a bow, he has to become a real predator, he has to absorb and understand his environment and his prey. Although the bow connects Randy to his primal instincts, it also makes him feel separated from his peers. Similarly, when human beings believe that man is a part of the animal kingdom, they are identified as primitive.
Both of these motifs and perhaps the rest of the story is an allusion to the fact that all human beings have primal calls and instincts pulsing within them. Over the years, human beings have rejected these instincts and have separated themselves from the animal kingdom. However, there comes times when those primal instincts tend to show much like how townsfolk behaved on every Halloween when they strapped those antlers on their head. Moreover, the story also alludes to how human beings who try to connect to their primal instincts are shunned by the society and are forced to feel as if they do not belong just like Randy.
Bass, Rick. “Antlers.” Semo – Southeast Missouri State University. Semo – Southeast Missouri State University, n.d. Web. 28 May 2013. ;http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/hhecht/Readings/Antlers.htm;.
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