What makes someone different from another person? Their similarities? Or, their differences? Their qualities? Their character? What sets them apart from another? Richard Wagamese’s short story “The Animal People Choose a Leader” is about four animals that have different views on what makes a great leader. The four animals; Horse, Buffalo, Cougar, and Wolverine compete in a race to see who is the most capable leader between them all. Wapoose, a rabbit, joins the race with the four powerful beings; the race is four times around a lake surrounded by steep hills. Ultimately, the four animals learn that none of them are more capable to be the leader than Wapoose, the wise and kind rabbit. In the end, Wapoose is regarded as the leader for the Animal people. It can be argued that Cougar and Wapoose are extremely different from one another when one considers Wapoose’s rational thinking versus Cougar’s irrationality, Cougar’s pride versus Wapoose’s humbleness and Cougar’s unwillingness to help and Wapoose’s initiative to help those in need.
Firstly, Wapoose and Cougar both portray throughout the short story their difference in their rationality; from the smallest to the largest of decisions. Wapoose is very rational and chooses the right decisions, while Cougar tends to be impulsive and irrational with his choices. This is demonstrated when Wolverine is exhausted from clinging onto a cliff and decides to give up winning the race, Wapoose tells Wolverine saying, “The way I have found is easier, it takes longer but I make it all the way around without a struggle. I would be very happy if you accompanied me”(Wagamese 5). Wapoose is rational and does not power her way through the course, she believes that one shall take their time and learn about the different aspects of life and the environment. Wapoose believes in learning something new every day, for it benefits her and makes her a better person. Wapoose does not rush, for it would be very irrational to do so. When someone rushes something, they end up making an abundant amount of mistakes and eventually ruining their thought process. When something is rushed, there is no love or passion poured into it. While something that is created or done with time and effort, passion is truly present. Wapoose shows her rational thinking and believes that nothing should be rushed, for it demeans the purpose of doing or creating something. Cougar, however, is very irrational and does not think about his decisions. This is demonstrated when Cougar lays on a large flat boulder exhausted with his eyes half-closed, his tongue out, and his breath very shallow. The other animals with Wapoose approach Cougar, he says, “I’m spent, I went too fast for too long and the effort has robbed me all of my strength. I don’t know if I have the energy to stand, let alone make it to the finish line. I’ve failed”(Wagamese 8). Cougar shows to the readers his irrationality and hasty thought process. Cougar powers his way through the course and believes that during races, it is only about winning. He does not believe that races are about the experience, the learning and the things one obtains from it. Cougar realizes his mistake after the effects of the mistake and knows he should have taken his time, for his endurance would still be there if he did. Wapoose and Cougar are certainly different and contrast one another. These pieces of evidence clearly demonstrate their contrasting thought process. Wapoose shows her rationality by taking her time on the race and wanting to learn new things to benefit herself. While Cougar believes in rushing and only winning, he creates a very simple mistake of rushing the race because of his irrational thinking. Not only do they differ in their rationality, but also in their pride and humbleness.
Additionally, from the beginning, it is clear that Cougar and Wapoose have different moral values. Cougar is overly prideful and boasts about himself, while Wapoose does not try to prove her worth. This can be shown when the animals are preparing for the race and Wapoose joins in, but Eagle believes she is not suitable for the race, Wapoose replies, “Yes, it would be an honor to contest with such magnificent beings”(Wagamese 3). This quote shows the reader that Wapoose is very humble. Through this, Wapoose respects her fellow competitors and does not think of any malicious or negative ideas about the other animals. She puts aside her pride and does not boast about her strengths. Wapoose acknowledges the amount of skill the other animals have and does not try to put them down. When a person knows that someone is better than them, they will either think badly of themselves or think badly of the person. But Wapoose does not do either; she is only concentrated on the bigger picture and not what is seen through a glance. Wapoose shows the readers that her humbleness is what a great leader needs; to not boast and respect others without a doubt. Cougar, on the contrary, is not humble and boasts about himself to show that he is the best and most capable leader. This is demonstrated when cougar replies to Buffalo’s boasting, saying, “What’s needed is a discerning manner, your power is no match for my ability to cover territory with stealth. I will emerge as the leader because of my gift of patience”(Wagamese 2). Cougar reveals to the readers his large amount of pride; that he believes no one is more capable to be the leader than himself. Cougar does not show respect and thinks badly of the other animals. To ensure his victory, Cougar tries to put the other competitors down and douse himself with compliments. Cougar shows he is not humble in any shape or form; he tries to prove to the other animals his strengths will triumph over them. Cougar portrays himself as an overly prideful person; qualities that are no good for a great leader. Thus making Cougar very different from Wapoose. Wapoose’s humbleness and Cougar’s pride are both different sides of the spectrum, showing the readers that they both are very different from one another. Cougar does not care and brags about his power, while Wapoose stays quiet even knowing that she is wiser and stronger in a certain way than the other animals. Not only do they differ in their moral values, but also their willingness to help.
An equally important factor is Cougar’s and Wapoose’s willingness to help those in need. There are three types of people in this world: the people who love to help others, the people who help but not do so often, and the people who avoid and do not want to help at any cost. Cougar and Wapoose individually represent one of these types of people. Cougar throughout the story demonstrates his unwillingness and lack of initiative to help, while Wapoose demonstrates her mindset of being helpful to those in need. This can be seen when Horse was stuck in a thicket of blackberry bushes and Wapoose quickly comes to his aid; she says, “ When I hop through them, I learned to be patient and push against one piece at a time. We will show you”(Wagamese 6). This quote is very important because it helps reveal to the reader how helpful Wapoose really is. She does not hesitate to help those in need and does not consider it a hassle to help Horse. Wapoose shows the reader that she does not care about anything else but the safety of her neighbors. If Wapoose did not help, Horse would have struggled for hours and probably end up harming himself severely. Wapoose believes that everyone has the right to be helped back up after falling down from a struggle. The reader also learns that there are people in the world that may need help from others, and it is our duty to help those people in need, for sometimes they can not solve the problem solely. Wapoose proves to the reader her qualities deem fit for the leader the animals aspire to be. On the contrary, Cougar does not offer help to his fellow animals and believes that it will render him from winning the race if he stops to help. This is shown when Horse is helped by Wapoose and escapes the thorns that scratched and tore his body; Horse says, “Buffalo and Cougar went by me and did not stop to help”(Wagamese 6). With this quote, Cougar reveals to the reader his unwillingness to help those in need. Cougar portrays to the readers he contributes only to benefit himself; he does not care for the well being of others. This demonstrates his incapability to become a great leader for the Animal people because of his self-centeredness. When someone does not help a person in trouble, the person with the problem realizes that he or she has no one that supports them and will back them up through times of struggle. Cougar shows that he does not care and would rather let Horse struggle to gain what he wants for himself. Thus showing his qualities are unfit for the leader that the Animal people all aspire to be. These pieces of evidence greatly depict that Wapoose and Cougar are antithetical to one another. Wapoose offers help to those in need, while Cougar does not care and contributes only to his gain. Cougar’s actions show his unwillingness to even help his fellow people and would rather allow them to injure themselves than staying safe. Wapoose believes in helping others because showing love and kindness to others is the most important aspect of life. These perspectives of the two animals show their great difference from one another, setting them apart on any scale.
In conclusion, Cougar and Wapoose are very different from one another. This is portrayed throughout the short story “The Animal People Choose a Leader” by Richard Wagamese. Wapoose is very rational, while Cougar is impulsive and irrational. Secondly, Wapoose does not boast and lowers her pride to be humble, while Cougar does not care and boast about himself to all the animals; showing his excessive amount of pride. Finally, Wapoose is very helpful to those in need and does not hesitate to help, while Cougar disregards those who need assistance and only contributes to his own benefit. People may seem similar to one another, but when one considers their actions and thinking, there are qualities that set people apart from one another; like opposing sides of a spectrum.
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