Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is love presented in the book? Is it something that is part of the human condition, or can dogs experience it too?

    In the novel, while love first appears as something that only humans can experience, we learn over the course of the novel that the truth is far more complex. The novel begins its treatment of love with Nira's conversation with Majnoun, in which Majnoun expresses that he has never felt the emotion Nira describes (49-50). Later on, however, we see that Atticus and Rosie share feelings for one another that go beyond the sexual and for which there is no canine name for (94-95). It is possible that these are feelings of love, but because there is no language to describe their feelings, Atticus feels as if they are a perversion. Moreover, when Nira passes away and Majnoun meets with Hermes, Majnoun is able to understand what Nira meant by love when gifted with divine understanding and shown her formative experience (147-148). Together, this evidence suggests that love is not essentially human, but is rather shared by two beings with full understanding of one another and the clear language to communicate this understanding. This idea is reinforced by the conclusion of the novel featuring Prince, in which he understands his master Kim for the first time and loves him (171).

  2. 2

    What does Prince's poetry teach us about the nature of language?

    There are many ways to answer this question, but a thorough answer will take account of multiple aspects of Prince's poetry. First, Prince's poetry invites us to see language as intrinsically tied to the group or collective that uses that language. This is observable not just in Prince's own opinions on the importance of his pack, but also in the fact that each of his poems contains the name of a different pack member, unwritten but clear in the poem's sonic aspect. Second, Prince's poetry is the only thing in the novel able to bridge the gap of mortality and reach the immortals. When Hermes reflects on the fact that the gods are more powerful than human beings but cannot cross the mortal threshold, the fact that Prince's poetry is able to bridge this divide and reach the gods becomes even more striking. Finally, an account of Prince's poetry should mention the aesthetic value that Prince locates in his poetry, which is so great as to elate him in death and tip the scales of the wager between Hermes and Apollo. Thus, even when only looking at the novel's treatment of Prince's poetry, language is portrayed as an immensely complex tool.

  3. 3

    What is the relationship between the mortals and the gods like in Fifteen Dogs?

    The relationship between the gods and the mortals in the novel is rather complex. Though we are reminded several times that the gods take no interest in the worldly affairs of mortals, they spend a considerable amount of time interfering in the affairs of the dogs, and they also visit earth to be among the humans (in the case of Hermes and Apollo). Moreover, we are told that, when the community of gods on Olympus becomes aware of the bet between Hermes and Apollo, they too make their own wagers about mortals. Finally, when Hermes leaves the Wheat Sheaf Tavern at the end of the novel, his meditations on the nature of mortality reveal a fascination with mortal life because it will always be inaccessible to him. Together, this data suggests that the gods in the novel view the collective of mortals as a source of interest and entertainment as a whole, though their individual fates are of little import or concern to the gods.

  4. 4

    How do pack loyalty and belonging figure into Alexis' novel?

    Through the actions and words of the dogs in Alexis' novel, we see the value that the dogs place in belonging to a larger community. First, the central disagreement between Majnoun and Atticus at the beginning of the novel is over which collective reigns supreme over their loyalty—the wider community of dogs, or the smaller community of their pack, which is neither canine nor fully human. In debating this disagreement, however, both Atticus and Majnoun agree that belonging is the most supreme feeling in existence (39). Second, when Benjy comes calling after Majnoun and Prince, both in turn accept him because of their loyalty to the original pack. Each also takes care to ask Benjy about the well-being of their larger pack unit when they run into him. Finally, the thoughts that both Benjy and Atticus have about the nature of belonging sheds light on the novel's stance regarding hierarchy—namely, that each member of a community is as important as the leader, and that their strength as individuals is mutually reinforced by belonging and contributing to the same collective.

  5. 5

    What do you think are the "Two Gifts" mentioned in the last chapter? Why?

    There are two sets of likely candidates for the "two gifts" mentioned in the chapter's title. One set assumes that the word "gift" is meant literally, and maps the gifts to each intervention Hermes makes on Prince's behalf. After all, it is clear why Hermes granting Prince first another chance to live and then an opportunity to experience love while alive would be gifts.

    The other set, however, assumes that the word "gift" is meant more playfully or sarcastically, and this idea maps the two gifts to the interventions made by Apollo. While it might not be readily apparent why blindness and deafness could be considered gifts, it is ultimately overcoming these limitations that enriches Prince's life and allows him to spend the end of his life with a loving family, as well as to die happy with himself. These two interpretations also show the ways in which nature/fate/the gods work in syzygy, giving and taking in different regards towards an end that is not always readily apparent.