A canine-centric critique of selected dog narratives.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In this thesis I perform a canine-centric reading, within the theoretical frame of Critical Animal Studies, of nine ‘dog narratives’ from the last three decades – that is, novels in which dogs and human-canine relationships are central to the story. While the novels differ from each other in numerous and substantial ways, they share a common trait: a conduciveness to the examination of tensions, paradoxes and contradictions inherent to the human-canine bond as it exists in Western culture. Each chapter centres on a key motif present in various groupings of four of the selected novels: human and canine interspecies communication; the socio-cultural categorisation of dogs; and the dual role of the domesticated dog as a device in life and literature. Just as Western cultural attitudes, overt and implicit, arise in these dog narratives in turn, these dog narratives provide valuable insight into our contradictory perceptions and subsequent treatment of dogs bred to serve as companions. Dog narratives present us with an opportunity to examine and critique some of the assumptions made about dogs – assumptions that result in their paradoxical status in Western culture. While some dog narratives reinforce the belief that human language privileges the human species, others undermine this claim by privileging canine forms of language and through depicting human language as problematic or as overrated as a means of communication. Authors of dog narratives utilise conflict stemming from opposing views of dogs’ subject/object categorisation in Western culture to challenge the deleterious object status of dogs. Most, if not all, dogs depicted in dog narratives are devices to facilitate the conveyance of stories primarily concerned with human experiences; nevertheless, authors of dog narratives can and do find efficient ways to challenge and question reductive representations of dogs. By utilising techniques such as point of view, characterisation and the itinerancy trope, and by creatively and effectively imagining their way into the canine mind, many authors of dog narratives bestow a canine identity upon the dogs they depict, which challenges our ability to view and treat dogs with detached objectivity and, in doing so, they offer more positive representations of the literary canine companion.