Darwin, Victorian Literature, and the Great Web: Analyzing and Dismantling the Human Superiority Complex

Farhad R. Anwarzai, Butler University


In my essay, I will argue that the discrimination and cruelty humans project towards other humans mirrors the discrimination and cruelty humans project towards other species. A moral justification exists behind the need to discriminate against another human or animal. Therefore, the concept of “morality,” which has long been thought to be the root of man‟s “higher” mental capabilities, and which is, I will propose, the cause of racism, sexism, classism, and speciesism, is not an advantageous, or “higher,” trait. Instead, “morality,” if we classify it in Darwinian terms, is a disadvantageous trait that could potentially lead to our devolution and extinction. I will also claim that Darwin was the first major opponent of speciesism and an anthropocentric model of thinking. Darwin‟s plea to sympathize with other animals (as opposed to “moralizing” power over them), is not only written from the viewpoint of a scientist working in the interest of mankind, but also written from the viewpoint of a humanist calling for kinship among all earthlings. Darwin initiated a debate not only scientific, but also humanistic and literary in nature. Consequently, Victorian fiction writers began emulating Darwin‟s sympathetic, anti-anthropocentric undertones. Ouida‟s A Dog of Flanders (1872) and Anna Sewell‟s Black Beauty (1877) provide Victorian readers with a revolutionary narrative style, one that takes viewpoint of a non-human animal. Despite the works of Darwin, Ouida, and Sewell, however, speciesism is still practiced today on an even greater level than in Victorian England. This is evident through the global practices of medical experimentation, factory farming, and animal labor. Ultimately, this essay enters into a discussion with public perception and seeks to dismantle a set of anthropocentric attitudes and values still with us today. Using The Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), A Dog of Flanders, Black Beauty, and contemporary scholarship, I will show, through a textual and a critical analysis of each work, how human beings are not at the top of a ladder, but instead part of an interconnected web.