“Black dog” by Penelope Lively is a short story that can be hard to understand. The reader would most likely have to think about what the author really meant and would probably have to read between the lines. In this essay I am going to try to tell my interpretation of this story.
When I first read this story it seemed to me to be a horror story much inspired by the legendary Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote scary stories about our mind playing tricks on us. And in this story, I think, that is very much the case.
The story starts when Brenda Case is seeing a “Black dog” around the neighborhood that no one else seems to find. The black dog just sits in the garden or at the front porch never entering and just watching her. She tells here family (her husband, their three sisters and their husbands again) which has mixed opinions about her story. The only one who truly seems to take this upon himself is the husband, John Case. The other family members seem to care, if any, in a more patronizing and cold way. She is convinced that the dog one day would enter the house and that would mean the end for her. The dog would eat here.
After weeks and month of trying in every way to get past her fears by doing simple things like getting hobbies, going to the doctors and taking pills, she decides to make the best of it and just start living again, even is the dog was out there. Therefore, she overcomes here fears of the black dog and it seems, that for here, life can begin again But then, at the end her husband sees also this black dog and is struck by this strong horror. The dog has entered the house!
What is the black dog? Is it just an illusion or is it real? And what could be the cause of the phenomenon? Perhaps, it would become clearer when we understand the people involved. If we understood Brenda and John Case better. Brenda Case seems be a housewife at the age of 54. She sees a black dog that scares her. She feels old and is very melancholic. She spends her days reading articles about problems women have when reaching a phase in life.
John Case is just as old as Brenda, but unlike Brenda he does not feel old. At least not yet. He cares a lot about his wife and is worried when she gets this panic attack when seeing this dog outside.
Knowing these simple characterizations, what is the matter with Brenda and later in the story John? I would have to say that the dog is just a symbol of what many people would have to go through. The menopause. I am basing my theory on the last part of the short story when John Case sees the black dog for the first time. John Case was “startled by his own face (…) a man both older and more burdened than he knew himself to be.” Just after his discovery the dog appears.
I think that this story, although based on a woman, has no feminist theme. This hard period in our life, when life seems for a short time to be over just because we are getting older, is not just an event that women suffers by. This is clearly also in this story, when John Case suddenly feels very old. But this story is a happy one, since it tells us “you will get over it Brenda did”, and I think this story is more of a comforting story than a horror story when we first think about it.
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