Over the course of a few months, our class and our fellow Bees in Wingham, Ontario, read a book called Half Brother, written by Kenneth Oppel. We finished reading the book recently, and watched Project Nim, which is the documentary the book was (probably) based on. It was (probably) based on a project back in the 70’s, that Columbia University began. The goal of the project was to teach a chimp sign language and raise him like a human child in a human household, to see if he could communicate with the humans.
The project failed miserably. Nim tormented the children of the household, bit many people, and destroyed many things. He also didn’t listen very well. In the documentary, this is portrayed very well. It gives the image that Nim is really just an animal. He may be all cute and cuddly, but in the end, he is just an animal and nothing can change that.
In Half Brother, the chimp, Zan, is portrayed differently. He is cute and cuddly all the time. We only ever seen the animal come out in him a few times; he bit three people. He is more ‘toned down’ in the book, compared to the documentary. During the project, Nim bit numerous people, all the time. Most of his teachers had many incidents where they required stitches. This also shows that in the book, Oppel didn’t show us Nim/Zan’s “wild side”. He is portrayed differently in the book.
(Image from: Arizona Public Media)
The project in the 70’s and the project depicted in Half Brother, Nim and Zan are two different beings. Nim, the real life chimp, in more of an animal; and he shows it. Zan, the fictional chimp, is dialed down. He is more humane and shows more human characteristics. He develops a strong bond with Ben, and truly cares for him. Nim is close to a few people, but, in my opinion, does not show the human characteristics that Zan does.
While reading the book, the question of “Is Zan a person?” arose. At this time, I stated:“I don’t agree that Zan is not a person. But I also don’t think he is fully a person. He is still an animal. I believe that to be a person, you need to have feelings and emotions, favourite things, a family and friends, and most importantly, an individual personality. I think that an individual personality and humanity is what makes a person, a person. Zan is mostly a person, in my opinion, because of these things. He is still an animal though, and always will be; he just has the character traits of a human and can then be classified as a person.”
After watching the documentary of the real project, I would not say he is a person. I would still say that a person is someone has feelings and emotions, favourite things, family and friends, and an individual personality, but, Nim Chimpsky is not a person. He is not humane and does not possess the ability to properly communicate. I think someone needs these important traits to be classified as a person. Nim may have favourite things, such as yogurt and joints, he has a personality, that’s for sure, but he doesn’t have friends or a family. He was ripped away from his mother, and placed with a human family. Nim was unable to make good friends with the chimps at the sanctuary, and the teachers were just doing their job. Zan in the book may have been a person, but I don’t think Nim can be classified as a person.
The documentary was very interesting, and has definitely arisen some questions in me. I think reading Half Brother and watching the project in the movie was a great school experience. We learned a lot about society back in the 70’s, society now, and, most importantly, animal testing. Project Nim was a great documentary and people should definitely add it to their bucket list.