The Life and Death of Cholmondeley Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will analyze 'The Life and Death of Cholmondeley' by Gerald Durrell. This is a composition about an ape named Cholmondeley who is sent from Africa to the London Zoo.


Imagine you are suddenly taken from your home and forced to relocate to an unfamiliar place filled with strangers. Further, you are given limited space and not allowed to leave. These are some of the things that are done to Cholmondeley, the ape with the nickname Chumley, from ''The Life and Death of Cholmondeley'' by Gerald Durrell. Let's analyze this essay.

Gerald Durrell

During his teenage years, the author, Gerald Durrell, worked at a pet shop, a farm, and a zoo. Early in his life, he had plans to collect animals and build a zoo someday. In his 20s, he began traveling to Cameroon to collect endangered animals for breeding. ''The Life and Death of Cholmondeley'' was written to describe one of Durrell's experiences on an expedition to Cameroon.

Durrell opposed capturing animals purely for their show value and was often critical of the London Zoo for this reason. In his 30s, he became a writer and an activist who focused his attention on supporting endangered species. On March 26, 1959, Gerald realized his dream by opening the Jersey Zoo. Fourteen years later, Assumbo became the first gorilla born there.

Summary and Purpose

''The Life and Death of Cholmondeley'' opens at the end of an expedition. Durrell has been asked to transport Chumley to the London Zoo, as he had become too large for the government official who owned him. This serves as a warning to those who attempt to keep wild animals as pets. They can easily become overwhelming.

When Durrell takes possession of the chimpanzee, he is shocked at the size, but impressed by its human-like behavior. They quickly become friends, as demonstrated when Chumley lightly bites one of Durrell's fingers. According to the author, ''in the chimpanzee world, to place your finger between another ape's teeth is a greeting and a sign of trust.'' Chumley further displays his animal behavior by throwing his dishes after each meal. However, Chumley soon shows signs of depression by refusing to eat and crouching in a corner of his cage. Durrell is able to coax the chimp out of his depression, and he is eventually sent on to the London Zoo.

Four months after Chumley arrives there, Durrell visits him. Chumley recognizes him instantly. This is the last time Durrell sees him. From there, Chumley becomes a performer on television. He runs into some problems when he is sent to the sanitorium for oral surgery. Chumley escapes and boards a bus. Durrell narrates:

''His presence caused such horror among the occupants of the bus that he got excited and forgot himself so far as to bite someone. If only people would realize that to scream and panic is the best way of provoking an attack from any wild animal!''

Chumley is given another chance, but the next time he has to go to the sanatorium for dental work, he escapes again, attempting to break into cars. Chumley is deemed unsafe and executed. Durrell explains through this story that when animals exhibit animal behavior, they are punished for it. In reality, humans were to blame for not knowing how to relate to the chimp.

Structure and Techniques

This true story is told by the first-person narrator and author. The original setting is Chumley's home, Kumba, Cameroon, Africa. The final setting is the London Zoo, where Chumley is put on display and then ultimately executed.

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