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Literature / They Cage The Animals At Night

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They Cage The Animals At Night is a 1984 autobiographical novel by Jennings Michael Burch. It tells of his experience at an orphanage, and later foster homes, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Jennings' mother was forced to give him up for several years due to health issues. Jennings was not told of this and didn't know he was being left in an orphanage until after he was already put in the orphanage. She told him that she'd be "right back," but that wasn't true. Jennings shuffled around from foster home to foster home, some experiences good and some horrifying, until he was reunited with his family.


This book provides examples of:

  • Denied Food as Punishment: On his first day at the orphanage, Jennings sits without being told to and as a result is denied breakfast.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Birthday: Jennings' friend Mark has lived in orphanages his entire life. He doesn't know his birthday or even his exact age.
  • Ear Ache: Near the start, a nun yanks Jenning out of his chair by the ear.
  • Gendered Insult: Due to the time period and the immature nature of kids, this occurs often. Due to his sensitivity being deemed effeminate, Jennings is bullied by other boys at the orphanage from the get-go.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Jennings' name gets turned into "Jenny" by bullies.
  • Men Don't Cry: Several times Jennings is berated for crying.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The orphanage Jennings gets sent to is less than pleasant, with strict nuns who slap the kids for misbehaving and worse.
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  • Taking the Bullet: When a new kid comes to the orphanage and spills his food, Jennings realizes that the nun in charge will go hard on him so he stands up and says he did it himself. The nun beats him to the point of unconsciousness. The new kid later comes to visit him in the infirmary and tearfully thanks him.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Upon meeting the other kids at the orphanage, Jennings gets bullied for having a given name that sounds more like a surname. The older boy mock him even more by calling him "Jenny."
  • Would Harm A Child: Several of the nuns, and one foster family that takes Jennings in, are pretty abusive towards him.


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