The Moose and the Sparrow is like a mini-murder-mystery. It throws the reader right into the middle of a logging camp experience, with all sorts of special vocabulary that only lumbermen (and they are all men!) would know. It is also a tale of the effects of bullying on a bully, his victim, and those around them. The bully, Maddon, is described as a failed student, and filled with anger. Mr. Anderson, the narrator, tries to explain his behavior to the Sparrow by telling him that; men like Moose “are so twisted inside that they want to take it out on the world.
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They feel that most other men have had better breaks than they’ve had, and it rankles inside them. They try to get rid of this feeling by working it out on somebody who’s even weaker than they are. Once they pick on you there’s no way of stopping them short of getting out of their way or beating it out of their hide.” We hear all around us now that bullies are often people who have been bullied themselves. Some of them have been mistreated at home, perhaps even to the point where it could be called child abuse.
They have pain, and have no strategies to deal with it, or get rid of it. Hurting others can be a distraction from this pain. To see this in action, watch a kid come home from a day of being bullied at school and beat up on or yell at a younger, vulnerable sibling! Moose may indeed feel jealous of Sparrow’s academic achievements and promise for his future, as Mr. Anderson suggests, and he may feel stupid, unloved, ungainly, or any of many other negative adjectives.
Although anyone can be a bully, the ones we think of are the kids who are big and maybe were held back because of poor academic performance, and who are probably embarrassed about being the oldest kids in the class. Sparrow does not start out being characterized as violent or unbalanced. In fact, he is remarkably tolerant of the mistreatment, perhaps too tolerant! However, he is so outbalanced in strength and experience by Moose that his options are severely limited.
Sparrow, once he is seriously injured by the burning saw trick, really believes that his physical survival is at risk. He may be right. Moose, after all, has shown himself to not be the brightest bulb. Moose’s effort to dunk Sparrow could have ended in tragedy if Sparrow had not been able to swim, or gotten caught under the water. There are all sorts of examples of deaths by hazing in the military, the fraternities, and even some sports teams.
These activities are merely organized bullying. When young people and alcohol are involved, good sense is often absent, and the danger of a fatal accident is significant. Sparrow, in the face of what he believes to be the threat of maiming or death, is eventually pushed to engage in violence himself, or so we are asked to infer. This pattern is reminiscent of some of the student school shootings of the last decade. The news stories about some of these tragedies suggest that the kids definitely felt that they were mistreated.
Perhaps the bullying was only verbal; the news stories always seem to mention the internet. However, the revenge that the bullied person takes on their persecutors is much, much more violent and final. So what happens to Moose? Sparrow responds to the roughing up by causing his death, although it is significant that he finds a way to let Moose actually kill himself by lunging across the bridge after Sparrow.
This, by the way, seems to be the first time Sparrow actually insults Moose, and the reader does not know what was said. What does this murder or manslaughter do to Sparrow over the long run? We see him viewing the airlift of Moose’s corpse with no outward emotion. This suggests that he is scarred emotionally himself , and cannot express his feelings appropriately. How could he not be scarred? He will carry the knowledge that he killed someone the rest of his life.
In the traditions of the First Nations, when someone kills another, even if it was justified by it happening during a battle, or in self-defense, they feel the need to perform rituals to avoid spiritual damage and restore the balance of creation. How will Sparrow relate to others in the future? How can he ever have a sincere relationship with someone? He will have to lie, by omission, for the rest of his days.
Mr. Anderson, a witness to bullying, is affected for the rest of his life. He is reminded constantly of the violence he witnessed, and the retaliation at which he has guessed. He will always wonder whether he could have prevented it, or whether he should have reported his suspicions. This holds a lesson for us in school. When any of us sees bullying, we should not keep silence. There is too much danger that someone will be hurt, permanently.
If we talk to an adult, and get help, we may be able to prevent something awful happening. What this story tells us is that bullying has impact on the doer, the victim, and those around them. None of the impact is good.