Lessing’s THE BEAR AND THE ELEPHANT*

Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2020

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Caption: The Cake Walk Dance

WHAT incomprehensible creatures men are!" said the Bear to the Elephant. "What will they not expect next of us superior animals?
I am forced to dance to music, I, a serious-minded Bear! Yet they know quite well that such foolish capers are un-suited to my dignified nature.
Otherwise why do they always laugh when I dance?"
I also dance to music," replied the wise old Elephant," and I consider myself quite as sedate and honourable as yourself.
Nevertheless, the spectators never laugh at me; all that can be read in their faces is a pleased wonderment. Believe me, friend Bear, the people laugh at you, not because you dance, but because you look as though you felt so silly."
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The bears in the illustration
are doing the cakewalk, a slave parody of the Big House’s white folks’ minuets and promenades.
The dance’s exaggerated movements (prancing, strutting, low bowing, waving canes, doffing hats, and high kicking) lampooned the white folks dancing.
It was a tacit way for the powerless slave to ridicule the enslavers.
Lessing’s elephant retains a modicum of self-respect over having to dance. He dances so well that the audience is amazed. Instead of laughing, the audience admires and marvels.
At work, how do you deal with adversity, with being treated shabbily?
If your boss is a passive-aggressive priss, do you turn in on yourself and suffer like the pitiful bear? Or, do you rise above and still do your best for yourself?

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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