Domesticating the “Other”: An Analysis of the Appropriation of Non-Humans by Humanistic Discourse in Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin

Dipayan Mukherjee

Rabindra Bharati University, W.B., India

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


The humanistic narrative of Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin suppresses a politics of domination and domestication of the “Other” and this politics is a common thread which applies both in the context of the presentation of western civilization’s relation with non-western culture and human character’s relation with the non-human ones in the comic series. By analysis of some important non-human characters from The Adventures of Tintin, I shall explore the constant human attempt to bring the non-human within the humanistic discourse that is to domesticate them. Through such analytic procedure, I shall also try to figure out how a few animal characters resist the process of being humanized and the consequent harsh treatment that is meted out to them.

Keywords: non-humans, domestication, pets, animal rights, anthropocentricism

The inter-racial “Other”:

In order to analyze the inter-species relationship between human and animals as depicted in The Adventures of Tintin, a brief look at the inter-racial relationship between the western white race and the aboriginal non-white race as depicted in the comic series, needs to be taken into consideration. As regarding the relation between white and non-white races, the relation between the human characters and the animals in the series mainly involve a question of the “Other”.

Apparently what predominates in Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin series are humanistic values. As Jean-Marie Apostolides (2009) vindicates in her book The Metamorphoses of Tintin,Or, Tintin for Adults, the humanistic values in Tintin series have a strong basis in Christianity and cartoonist Herge’s boy scouts ideology. Tintin appears in the series as the epitome of humanitarian values who unflinchingly holds on to his philanthropic ideals irrespective of race and culture. For example in Prisoners of the Sun Tintin saves a native Peruvian fruit seller boy from the racist abuse of two Spanish-origin (that is of dominant race) ruffians (Herge, 1949/2014, p. 18-19). I do not question the humanitarian earnestness of Tintin’s character and activities. What needs to be questioned is the fact that humanism is used to disguise the issue of domestication of the “Other” which is a recurrent theme in the series in the context of the relationship between western and non-western civilization. The western culture is presented as having a civilizing mission and though the naivety of the non-western culture is preferred over the profiteering unscrupulous section of the western society, the “Otherness” of the non-west is sharply defined throughout the series. In fact, much of the comic appeal of the series is a result of the foregrounding of the “Otherness” of the non-western culture in contrast to the western culture which is projected as the standard. The point-of-view of the implied reader is definitely that of the western one and even the non-western reader is tempted to read from the western point-of-view in order to enjoy maximum comic appeal. Thus comedy becomes the tool which is used to create an effect of universal humanism along with its universal sympathizers and is used to hide the constant ridiculing of the non-western culture from reader’s view. Whichever culture asserts its uniqueness is projected as “Other” and hence the source of comedy and the intensity of the ridicule is somewhat camouflaged by the lukewarm patronization of the west.

Another point which needs to be mentioned here is that a large part of the Tintin series centre around exploration of non-western geographical territories and cultures like the depiction of the Tibetan Himalayas and life in the secluded Buddhist monastery in Tintin in Tibet (Herge, 1960/2012, p.47-52); or for example the depiction of the Inca religion and civilization in Prisoners of the Sun (Herge, 1949/2014, p.47-61). Following Michel Foucault’s notions regarding the interconnection between knowledge and power, it can be said that the desire projected in the series for gathering more and more knowledge of the non-western culture as well as the propensity towards generalizations and categorizations is actually connected to the western desire for controlling non-west. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault comments that “it is this fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection”( Foucault, 1979, p. 187)

So it can be said that The Adventures of Tintin series contain a desire for controlling and domesticating the “Other”ness of non-western cultures by a side-by-side use of two processes of ridiculing and exploring…Full Text PDF