Animal Crackers Summary & Analysis by Richard de Zoysa

Summary of Animal Crackers

The poem, Animal Crackers starts with the painting of a lion.  The lion represents the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.  They are going to be trapped by the rebel Tamil terrorists. And they are represented by Tigers.  The government of that time was represented by the Elephant.  The poem concludes with the disaster on both sides.  The political situation of that time was well brought up by the poet. 

Detail Analysis of the Poem Animal Crackers

Drawing symbolic animals, Richard de Zoysa’s “Animal Crackers” explains the political climate in Sri Lanka. The poem opens with a lion illustration. It stands in for the Sinhalese people who would get entangled with the terrorist Tamil rebels.

The first stanza of the poem Animal Crackers starts with a simple conversation between the two characters.  The person asks another person to draw a picture of a lion.  So I started to do the work.  The artist says metaphorically the lion is a lazy, kindly beast to refer to something and wants to colour it in yellow, the colour used to symbolize the Sinhala nationality. 

The description of the animal is quite surprising.  The nature which is mentioned here is not associated with the lion.  The first stanza refers to the lion to the native majority people of Sri Lanka.  He gives an introduction to the native people of the country.  The lion Symbolizes the majority population of the country.

The second stanza starts with the questions.  The person who requested the artist to draw the lion asks whether it would bite, he is curious to know whether the kind of lion would bite.  The poet talks about the nature of lions in the style of contrast and Juxtaposition.  The question has been answered in the next few lines of the poem Animal Crackers with a great message.  The lion could bite sometimes when it gets angry or if anyone pulls its tail or says that it is just a normal cat family. 

Comparing the king of the jungle to an ordinary tame animal cat could not be taken as simply as that.  The poet refers to the Sinhalese, who will not take anything which could be less than they are.  Then the poet says the importance they give to their dignity and pride.  The nature of the sons of the soil metaphorically refers to the proud history behind Sri Lanka and its evolution.

The poet now comes out of the conversation between the two characters.  He describes the situation here.  There is sunlight which does not shine literally well to embrace the people in its warmth.  The day is quite silent and dull and not giving anything special. The next lines describe the roaring sound of the lions in pride which gives the idea to the poet feeling that the lions who were asleep for a long, were awakened. 

The sound image of the poet brings the meaning of the situation, where the Sinhala people who are referred to as the lions, get ready to react and face the changes. An indirect message foreshadows the future disaster of the nation perhaps.

In this 4th stanza, the artist moves to draw another animal.  This time in Animal Crackers he draws a tiger as he is requested to draw it.  It has been described as a vision of a beast.  The tiger represents the Tamil rebellion group who fought for their independent separate state in the north of Sri Lanka. The group was referred to as “The Tigers.”  The poet sees the animals and thinks of Blake’s poem “The Tyger.”  

He also refers to Jim Corbett who was a British hunter and tracker, he owned a national park in India.  The speaker imagines the Tiger as black bars on gold.  A visual imagery which describes the beauty of the tiger in Blake’s poem. The images of lions and tigers give a feeling of warning to the poet. The poet gets an unusual feeling of insecurity.

Recommended to Read

Three Questions: Summary and Analysis by Leo Tolstoy

The Song of Death by Twafik Al-Hakim Summary & Exercise

Summary of Lucy Gray by William Wordsworth

Summary of A Poison Tree [Poem] by William Blake

The stanza moves on to describe the artist and the person who requests him to draw.  Now the situation changes the word DRAW! Gives a yelling effect.  And he yells and draws the gun on the artist.  The poet refers to the other person in that room as a small child who points to the toy gun and asks if he knows the “force majeure”- a French term for an overwhelming face.  The child operates the toy gun at the artist. 

It refers to the communal riots which destroyed the peace, tranquillity and unity among the people “all hell breaks loose” suddenly there is sky is full of dark smoke and an orange stripe of flame”  the stanza explains in detail the unfortunate historical civil war which destroys the peace and burnt the happiness of the people into flames of fire.  DRAW is a pun and suggests two meanings such as to draw the image and to draw the gun as well. Orange stripes of flames bring destructive visuals to the reader.

The 6th stanza with two lines in capital letters expresses certain information with emphasis.  There is a refusal to accept the presence of tigers in real life.  There are no tigers visible to him, only lions are everywhere.  But tigers threaten the peace of his world. The lines in capital letters emphasize as if they are spoken by someone. Here too the lions and tigers represent the majority and the rebels.

The seventh stanza reveals the reality of the people and the political situation with some satire of  Animal Crackers.  The poet says there are jackals running and panting due to the roaring of the lions.  The reaction of the people who are terrified and run through the streets.  They want to get away from the dangerous situation. 

The jackals symbolize the mobs who attacked and aggravated the situation.  The word Madness is a simile as they behaved out of anger.  It was “infecting all” the word infecting is compared to a disease which led them to disaster.  Again the poet brings another animal symbol. 

The Elephant represents the ruling United National Party. The Elephant does not want to leave its safe place for fear of burning his own feet.  It may refer to certain political options where power and position are given priority.” wrinkles his ancient brows” brings a visual image of the elephant who wants to be in a safe place in a critical situation.” tender feet” is a metaphor

The eight stanzas speak to the condition of the young boy.  He says that if he puts down the gun he is good and he could draw the picture of the elephant.  He must understand that it is a curious animal.  The stanza may give an idea about the part of the Journalist who justifies the misunderstandings and the anger from both sides which destroys the peace of the country. Also, they pacify the common people about the action taken by the ruling government.   Beast metaphorically refers to the political involvement in provoking the riots.

The ninth stanza consists of only one line and it asks all who read the poem “DON’T LOOK OUT” this could be the voice of those who don’t wish to bring the situation under control.  The capital letters give the message, on the influence of the power which could oppress what disturbs their power.

The final stanza concludes with the innocence of the common people.  They believe what they are told.  The innocent common people are not detailed about the burning and the killings of their neighbours.  It may be hidden for a purpose.  The poet is sad, disappointed and frustrated about the bitter truth behind the scene. 

 Thus the Animal Cracker by Richard de Zoysa describes the worst political situation of the past in Sri Lanka.  The animals he used symbolically in this poem very well convey the real situation.  The poem is constructed in different irregular sets of lines and lengths.  Some stresses have been given by using CAPITAL letters. 

The style of the poem is very reflective of the general issue which could depress the readers.  The title evokes interest in the readers as it could be about animals.  The “Crackers’ ‘ which gives an idea about the whip crackers who announce the arrival of animals in a peripheral is well synchronized with the poem.  The work “Crackers’ ‘ in the title introduces the theme of the poem, the animals and how they destroyed the peace of the nation.

About The Author of Animal Crackers- Richard de Zoysa

Richard de Zoysa the writer of Animal Crackers was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  His father Lucien De Zoysa is a Sinhalese and his mother is Dr Manorajani Saravanamuthu, a Tamil lady.  He did his education at St.Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.  His acting skills were encouraged by D.S. Jayasekara.  He was honoured as the Best Actor at the national inter-school Shakespeare Drama Competition in 1972. 

He was one of the popular members of the Debating Team and Drama Society.  He was the head of the Inter Press Service.  His political reviews stirred the younger generation of his time.   He is a well-known Sri Lankan journalist and human rights, activist.  He died on 18th February 1990. He was awarded by the UN and sponsored Inter Press Service news agency in Richard De Zoysa’s memory

Final Understanding of Animal Crackers

Richard de Zoysa’s poem “Animal Crackers” has 10 stanzas that are divided up into random groups of lines. This poem has a lot of visual interest because of the manner it was written. There are orders and lines placed in quotation marks throughout, the lines of Animal Crackers vary in length, and some are written in all capitals. This form of writing captures the overall mood that the poem leaves the reader in. Both the scene being portrayed and the poem’s stanzas are chaotic.


Richard de Zoysa. (2022, August 1). In Wikipedia.