The Lives of Animals

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Lives of Animals


In this unit of work students will investigate the human/animal relationship by reading, analysing, debating and reflecting on the ethical and philosophical issues raised in J. M. Coetzee’s novella The Lives of Animals.


Year 10.


The Lives of Animals centers on the fictional character of Elizabeth Costello, a well-known novelist with strong views concerning the human treatment of animals.

Invited to speak at a prestigious university lecture series, Costello uses the event as an opportunity to discuss the human/animal relationship. Different perspectives on the issues raised are explored through the responses of other characters, including Costello’s son and daughter-in-law.


This novella demonstrates the power of language and the art of literature.

Students are invited to consider how:

  • Attitudes towards animals are reflected in language choice;
  • Authors can influence audience perceptions of animals through metaphor and other language choices;
  • Fictional texts can present varied perspectives on moral, philosophical, and ethical issues, in addition to how fiction can be used to explore real world issues.


To access lessons and worksheets see the box on the right hand side of this page.

Flip through the full unit of work below and download it here to keep.

If you’d like a preview of the text, you can read an excerpt below:

Excerpt from The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee, edited and introduced by Amy Gutmann. Copyright © 1999 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.

Voiceless has three Loan Kits (each containing up to 30 copies of the novel) available to Australian high school teachers free-of-charge. Please email to apply for a Loan Kit.


About the Author

John M Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature and is a two-time winner of the Booker Prize and winner of the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. He is a Patron of Voiceless.

Coetzee has two honours degrees, and holds ten honorary doctorates. He has taught English literature at the State University of New York, Buffalo and the University of Cape Town where he was the Distinguished Professor of Literature between 1999 and 2001.

Coetzee is the author of numerous novels (Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello), fictional autobiographies and non-fiction publications.

J M Coetzee



“Works of fiction, whether novels or plays or films, have a long and proud history of providing us with avenues by which to explore real-world issues, and specifically the human dimension of real-world issues.”

(J.M. Coetzee in conversation with Voiceless, 2018).



Recommendation by High School Teacher Alex

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