"Narrative Complexity in the Talking-Dog Stories of Cervantes, Hoffmann, Gogol, Bulgakov, and Kafka"
A Thesis in the Field of Foreign Literature, Language, and Culture for the Degree of Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies
Harvard University, March 2012
With the intent of developing a method for classifying talking-dog stories of critical interest, this thesis evaluates the extent, degree, and type of narrative complexity within the talking-dog stories of five canonical authors in world literature: “The Dogs’ Colloquy” by Miguel de Cervantes, “A Report on the Latest Adventures of the Dog Berganza” by E.T.A. Hoffmann, “Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol, Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, and “Researches of a Dog” by Franz Kafka.
As the animal most accessible to human experience both inside and outside of the home, the dog has a long history of possessing the power of speech within literature and popular entertainment. Although most talking-dog stories are considered trite and banal, the works under consideration are treated as worthy subjects for serious commentary in the copious critical literature surrounding each author.
Using Gérard Genette’s Narrative Discourse as a framework, each of the works considered is evaluated for distinctive features of narrative time, narrative mood, and narrative voice. Correspondences are also sought between the narrative structure of the talking-dog stories and the authors’ other works.
Although there is no evidence that talking-dog stories are more complex than other stories by the same author, the research reveals a bidirectional relationship between an author’s introduction of a talking dog into a story and the desire to employ unusual narrative forms. Giving a dog the power to speak often requires additional explanatory apparatus; while at the same time, innovation in narrative structure, such as shifting narrative voice to various characters, makes readily available the possibility of a talking animal. In addition, each work uses the talking-dog motif to illuminate contemporary philosophical thought regarding the differences separating humans from animals. This fundamental humanistic question is answered in terms of morality for Cervantes, mythic natural powers for Hoffmann, adherence to social structures for Gogol, membership in scientific taxonomies for Bulgakov, and the ability to adapt to modernity for Kafka.
These observations demonstrate that talking-dog stories can go well beyond simple comic relief to provide commentary on issues such as moral behavior, musical aesthetics, the writer’s art, the limits of science, and the approach of modernity. That a dog speaks in fiction is no longer noteworthy in itself; our critical attention instead gravitates to those talking dogs contained in stories with something noteworthy to say about their perspective on the humanities.