The Circle of Life – Animal Symbolism on The Sopranos
When a non-Sopranoholic thinks of The Sopranos, what comes to mind? Most often, it’s the mafia (the Omerta), organized crime, guns, money, food, or perhaps all of the above. Less obvious is the role that animals play in telling the Sopranos story and illuminating the inner psyche of certain characters. That’s what this blog post is all about: the circle of life and animals on The Sopranos.
First, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize Tony Soprano takes a particular liking to animals. In fact, in the beginning of the Pilot, Tony follows a family of ducks into his backyard pool—robe and all—while offering to build them another ramp if they wanted one. Talk about A+ hospitality, huh? It’s no secret that the family of ducks signifies something deeper, and by the end of Pilot, Tony and Dr. Melfi conclude why:
Next, here comes the sausage! (“How many pounds, hot or sweet?“) Pigs are a frequent presence on The Sopranos, whether in Christopher Moltisanti’s nightmares, down at Satriales, or right in the Soprano refrigerator (all this from a slice of gabbagool?). Not to mention the other characters who often act like pigs in both personal and professional pursuits. Can you believe Christopher thought the only sausage they had was Italian and Jimmy Dean? It turns out to be much deeper than that.
(Sleepin' with) The Fishes
Another key member of The Sopranos animal kingdom is the fish. You know, like how Louis Brassi sleeps with the fishes. (Luca Brassi. There’s differences, Christopher!)
Of course, the “sleeping with the fishes” part comes from The Godfather, but David Chase gives it a nice Sopranos touch with Billy Bass. As we know, it’s actually a fish (in Tony’s dream) that tells Tony Big Pussy Bonpensiero’s “been working with the government.” Anyway, $4 a pound.
In addition to Big Pussy Bonpensiero, Tony sends Chucky Signore to sleep with the fishes one season earlier. And of course, we also have Carmela’s reassurance to Chrissy at the end of season 5 that there “are other fish in the sea.”
It was that Bird...
Not surprisingly, Chrissy was less than thrilled to find a bird sitting on the window during his making ceremony. While his fiancee, Adriana La Cerva, promised him it was only bad luck if the bird was inside, Christopher was convinced otherwise. In hindsight, his prediction of the bird being a bad omen wasn’t too far off, as we’ll see much later with that day’s inductees.
Also, remember the water bird I mentioned earlier? Sure enough, I’m circling back to the ducks, though they’re not in the Soprano pool anymore. Instead, they’re flying high above Tony immediately following his murder of a rat in small town Maine.
Speaking of rat, there’s one animal you do hear about quite often in organized crime. Yup, you guessed it…the rat. Though it’s not always easy to identify the source. Sure, there’s often some kind of low-hanging fruit, like a Jimmy Altieri. But what we obviously hear less about are the rats that slip under the radar, like Ray Curto.
Moving on, although we’re used to seeing birds and ducks in the neighborhood, not all animals on the Sopranos are quite as small. Like bears, for instance. So when one arrives in the Soprano backyard, A.J. and Carmela are understandably alarmed. Let me pause, though, for a moment, as I consider the following: Who really is the bear? Is it the Eastern black bear, or the DiMeo Family one?
By the same token, speaking of animals, Tony and Gloria went to the zoo on their first outing in The Telltale Moozadell. It was here that Gloria informed Tony that, “Usually they just engage in what’s called threat behavior.” Why does that sound familiar? It seems just like the kind of thing that occurs in the industry in which Tony works.
"Yeah, he could innocently maul you into ten pieces." -Tony
Moving on, a number of dogs come to mind in The Sopranos. We have Coach Hauser’s dog, Petey, the Rottweiler from Dr. Melfi’s dream, Angie Bonpensiero’s Coco (that fluffy, coco piece of sh*t?), Adriana’s Cosette, and Tony’s old dog, Tippy. There’s also the other Soprano family dog that A.J. said got run over by a car. Dogs have a variety of temperaments, but loyalty’s a pretty consistent trait. That loyalty and innocence tear at our heartstrings on both The Sopranos and in real life.
In fact, animals are so significant that they may even get a whole episode named after them! Just like “sleeping with the fishes,” a horse was also in The Godfather, though that time it was a horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed. For me, Pie-O-My symbolized the “compassionate side” of Tony, though it also makes me think of that scene in Test Dream where Tony comes into the house riding one.
Finally, in the Sopranos series finale, a cat that hangs out at the office is particularly intrigued by Christopher’s picture on the wall. On a side note, this is totally a cat thing. I grew up with cats and often found them staring at random spots, whether on the wall or otherwise. Also, about that cat…meow? Some fans think the cat is an actual reincarnated Adriana, which would be pretty funny given the Buddhist belief in reincarnation.
Conclusion: Did you ever think you'd see Richie Aprile doing downward dog?
To conclude, like many other things on The Sopranos, much is in the eye of the beholder. There were also a few others I want to quickly mention:
- Snakes (did you know they can reproduce spontaneously?!)
- Rabbit, as in the one Artie Bucco killed and cooked, in addition to the song “White Rabbit.”
- Deer, appearing in “College” and seemingly distracting Febby Petrulio so Tony could catch him off guard.
- What did I miss?
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