June 25, 2013

"In such situations, it is not ever an animal’s 'fault' — it is the dog-owner’s fault, of course."

"Seeing a dog-owner with a massive dog, we are likely to think that the dog-owner is enjoying his spurious power: he can cause extreme suffering, if he wishes to, and so we must be grateful that he is reining in his animal, which would love to bark and rush at us. A dog is an expression of its owner’s fantasy-self—perhaps?"

Says Joyce Carol Oates, explaining her story "Mastiff," which begins:
Earlier, on the trail, they’d seen it. The massive dog. Tugging at its master’s leash, so that the young man’s calves bulged with muscle as he fought to hold the dog back. Grunting what sounded like “Damn, Rob-roy! Damn dog!” in a tone of exasperated affection.
Mastiff... massive... master...

Rob-Roy?
Robert Roy MacGregor (Scottish Gaelic: Raibeart Ruadh MacGriogair; baptised 7 March 1671 – 28 December 1734), usually known simply as Rob Roy or alternately Red MacGregor, was a famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century, who is sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood. Rob Roy is anglicised from the Gaelic Raibeart Ruadh, or Red Robert. (He had red hair, Ruadh being Gaelic for red-haired, though it darkened to auburn in later life.)
Names. What does it mean to name the dog Rob-Roy? Oates's scary mastiff isn't even red. He's black.

We were out on the north shore of Lake Mendota the other day with our borrowed black dog named Zeus. Along came another black Lab. "What's his name?" we ask, and the man says, "Thor."

Seeing a dog-owner with a massive dog, we are likely to think that the dog-owner is enjoying his spurious power....

I google for an image of the god Thor, and Google autocompletes to Thoreau...

35 comments:

edutcher said...

Lessee, our first York was Treasure.

Then we got Quasar (so named for the little star on her forehead), who begat Quantum and Quicksilver, and, after treasure died, we got Sherlock, who investigated us and the car thoroughly on the way home.

Make of that what you will.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sometimes I heard the foxes as they ranged over the snow-crust, in moonlight nights, in search of a partridge or other game, barking raggedly and demoniacally like forest dogs, as if laboring with some anxiety, or seeking expression, struggling for light and to be dogs outright and run freely in the streets; for if we take the ages into our account, may there not be a civilization going on among brutes as well as men? They seemed to me to be rudimental, burrowing men, still standing on their defence, awaiting their transformation. Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated."

Quaestor said...

What kind of dog would Joan Carol Oates own, do you suppose? Or does she own a dog? I think not. She's cultivated a look of nervous frailty which shouts NOT A DOG PERSON. She probably sees a dog first as a source of loose hairs and detritus, then as a potential pee stain on the Persian rug...

Ann Althouse said...

I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name

Ann Althouse said...

"What kind of dog would Joan Carol Oates own, do you suppose? Or does she own a dog? I think not. She's cultivated a look of nervous frailty which shouts NOT A DOG PERSON...."

Obviously, a chihuahua. Those eyes.

Larry J said...

True story. About 20 years ago, several people in my mother's neighborhood gave their dogs unusual names. One was "Rolex", another was "Timex" and Mom's chow mix was "Seiko". They were all watch dogs. Well, that chow wasn't much of a watchdog. It was a mess. Everyone in the family referred to it as "Psycho."

rhhardin said...

You want dogs pulling if they're tracking, but then you use a harness, which is an advance clue to them also that tracking is about to start.

Astro said...

How many people acquire a fully grown dog as a pet? I'd bet most don't. You get a dog 'cause the wife thought it was cute as a puppy, with little thought given to what the adult dog would be like. Or the puppy was taken in as a stray. Or received as a 'gift'. Or the dog was inherited from a deceased relative, or a friend who moved. There may be a lot of folks who get a dog as an extension of their personality, but I think the pop-psychology analysis usually makes as much sense as astrology.

Bryan C said...

"Seeing a dog-owner with a massive dog, we are likely to think that the dog-owner is enjoying his spurious power: he can cause extreme suffering, if he wishes to..."

I've never, ever thought that, actually.

"...and so we must be grateful that he is reining in his animal, which would love to bark and rush at us."

And then they nuzzle you and lick your hand. At least that's what usually happens when large dogs bark and rush at me. Maybe dogs just like me better.

jacksonjay said...


The dog cult will NEVER blame a dog for anything!

The little boy who survived the Moore tornado but didn't survive the Mastiff was to blame for the attack!

Geesh!

jacksonjay said...


The dog cult will NEVER blame a dog for anything!

The little boy who survived the Moore tornado but didn't survive the Mastiff was to blame for the attack!

Geesh!

bearing said...

When I think of Rob-Roy, I immediately think of the minor character (a horse) in Black Beauty.

Rob Roy has to be shot after he's injured in a fox-hunting accident.

traditionalguy said...

The Red Headed League needs to extend a helping hand to Raibert Ruadh for travel expenses. He has had trouble rolling his Rs, and he may have to take a trip to the North American wilderness to recover...the cold one near Minnesota.

ricpic said...

It's always doomsday in Joyce Carol Oatesland.

David said...

So my fantasy-self is small and fluffy? I'd object, if it weren't for all the women who come over when I'm out walking him, cooing and petting and telling him that he's beautiful.

Peter said...

Thor was also the name of a USAF nuclear missile (although apparently it was named after the Norse god).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PGM-17_Thor

Quaestor said...

What we need now is a new missile named after Thoreau, followed by a host of new weapons named for transcendentalists -- an Emerson MBT, a Frothingham assault rifle, a Longfellow ICBM (five stages equipped with a Hiawatha MIRV warhead) -- the nomenclature alone will be a major psychological weapon in and of itself.

Roger J. said...

I cant comment on the underlying psychology of dog ownership--I have always owned big dogs: two great danes and an English Mastiff--all of which I got from rescue. They have been loving companions. The downside to big dogs is their short lifespan. Taking on such a dog will result in considerable pain when the inevitable time when they make the last trip to the vets.

I will continue to foster and adopt large breeds--they make the best companions. Make of my psychology what you will.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I thought some of the stuff she did with Daryl Hall back in the 70s and 80s was fairly catchy.

William Chadwick said...

In the Sunbelt "Edge City" I live in--basically a ghetto surrounded by suburbs, with a few upscale enclaves scattered amid the urban decay--big dogs seem to by a fetish or a status symbol among the Yuppies. Big poop-producing machines to guard the McMansion, I suppose. In this town a lot of the younger Yuppies seem to be recently-graduated college jock/fratboy types, and among these self-consciously "Alpha" Male types, I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Oates thesis were correct.

It's interesting to me that before the Cultural Wasteland in which I am now residing, I lived in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan. Once it started getting upscale, in the 1980s, I had to move out. In the 1990 movie STATE OF GRACE, about the "Westies" gang of Irish-American gangsters that once ruled Hell's Kitchen, both the Gary Oldman and Ed Harris characters talk about the Yuppification of "the Kitchen" in terms of the sudden prevalence of big dogs and their big poop. Harris even talks about the neighborhood being drowned by a "tidal wave of Yuppies and dog-sh/t."

William Chadwick said...

In the Sunbelt "Edge City" I live in--basically a ghetto surrounded by suburbs, with a few upscale enclaves scattered amid the urban decay--big dogs seem to by a fetish or a status symbol among the Yuppies. Big poop-producing machines to guard the McMansion, I suppose. In this town a lot of the younger Yuppies seem to be recently-graduated college jock/fratboy types, and among these self-consciously "Alpha" Male types, I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Oates thesis were correct.

It's interesting to me that before the Cultural Wasteland in which I am now residing, I lived in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan. Once it started getting upscale, in the 1980s, I had to move out. In the 1990 movie STATE OF GRACE, about the "Westies" gang of Irish-American gangsters that once ruled Hell's Kitchen, both the Gary Oldman and Ed Harris characters talk about the Yuppification of "the Kitchen" in terms of the sudden prevalence of big dogs and their big poop. Harris even talks about the neighborhood being drowned by a "tidal wave of Yuppies and dog-sh/t."

wyo sis said...

The third picture is Tyr not Thor.

Sigivald said...

I hope Oates doesn't think she has any great insight into other people's minds.

Because that's stupid.

Crunchy Frog said...

You're out of touch, Mitchell.

Synova said...

I wonder what having a little dog says about a person?

What is the percentage of people who are all "my dog is my baby and I love it like my own child so I know just what having a real child is like" who have little dogs compared to having big dogs named Zeus.

Or "my dog is smarter than your honor student" bumper stickers of people with little dogs compared to massive dogs named Thor.

jacksonjay said...


...neighborhood being drowned by a "tidal wave of Yuppies and dog-sh/t.

"my dog is smarter than your honor student" bumper stickers...

Dog Cult!

Synova said...

Honest... does anyone who has a "my dog is smarter than your honor student" bumper sticker actually have children? If they did have children of their own could they put that bumper sticker on their car without realizing that they're being gratuitously hateful toward the children who the parents are trying to praise for their accomplishments of doing well in school?

Synova said...

People who insist that their dog takes the place of a child obviously have control issues and prefer a "child" that doesn't have a mind of her own and lives only to please the "parent" and will never ever grow up and break their heart with a poor decision or moment of rebellion.

Banshee said...

Big dogs mean more to love. And it sounds like a really friendly, unusually non-territorial mastiff, rather than some kind of slavering death monster. But magically, later in the story, the mastiff becomes a slavering death monster who attacks screaming women. What??

The whole psychology of this woman in the story is apparently to be afraid of everything, but not prudent enough to take precautions or learn new skills so as to reduce fear. Apparently Oates is similar.

I sympathize with people like Oates who've been bitten. I got severely gummed by an elderly Pekinese with a mean streak, which made me nervous around small yappy dogs for quite a while. And yes, a large dog that's not mannerly is a menace, and their owners are even more a menace. But. There's a ridiculous disconnect here between "big dog that is pulling" and "killer death dog that is growling and biting."

Oates should have done another draft. She doesn't know enough about dog behavior to write a convincing dog.

Inga said...

I've always prefered small dogs, cuddly, scruffy, floppy ears, non shedding. Not yappers.

I do however love my grandchildren more.

Inga said...

Never ever mix Pekingese with Pomeranian though.

Synova said...

"I do however love my grandchildren more."

Exactly.

Also... I like dogs. And I like the little dogs more and more all the time. I don't plan on replacing any of our pets as they pass because I'd like to travel (and visit grandkids once I have any) but if I do fail at that and break down and get another dog, I'd probably get one that's small and fluffy.

Broomhandle said...

Of course I love my children more than my dogs but they (my children)have reached an age where they will never sit on my lap, hold my hand, or kiss my face again (maybe if I was dying). I think people bond hard and fast to little dogs because that kind of affection is offered every day.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I knew a black dog named "Othello". Is that racist? His owners were English majors.

wyo sis said...

My laptop shows only the first three pictures. My iPad shows four.
Interesting.