On page 146 of the novel, Hermes freezes time on Majnoun's request. What Majnoun then experiences is the simultaneous coexistence of an infinite array of sounds and scents that no longer have time to dissipate through. Describing this sensation, Alexis writes, "Even the smells stood still, so that when Majnoun moved his head ever so slightly, he could smell a vein of scent and then another and another, each scent like a layer in mica" (146). This simile is striking because it calls out each scent as a discrete element layered with others, rather than as an intermingled set of aromas. Moreover, the use of mica rather than another layered substance also evokes the frozen or static nature of the scents in the air.
Mansfield Park as a Manual
On page 129, when Nira and Majnoun read novels and watch films together, Majnoun reflects on how he is troubled by Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. The novel "seem[s] to him almost frightening in its rage for order, like a manual for masters" (129). This simile unmasks a key difference between human civilization and intelligent canine civilization. Namely, Majnoun and the other dogs in his pack are clear in their communication, intention, and domination of one another, and they chalk this all up to instinct or a natural order that is built into their physical being. There is no need to thirst for or hunger for order because it is already present and readily discernible through the dogs' clear and public actions. Humans on the other hand, more circumspect in their attitudes towards such a natural order, must thirst for social order in other artificial and ultimately oppressive ways that end up rubbing Majnoun the wrong way. This is especially true of English genteel society at the time of Austen's writing.
Communication as Water
On page 128, after Hermes meets with Majnoun and grants him human understanding, the following reflection on Hermes' role is offered: "As the god of translators, he was also the god of mistranslation and misunderstanding. It was he who, in a manner of speaking, muddied waters that became too clear or clarified those that had grown murky." This metaphor, which compares language and communication to water, is significant insofar as it links communication to something both natural and essential for human life. This metaphor is doubled in its significance and meaning in that the dogs in the novel are also drawn to water (such as Lake Ontario), and these dogs also see communication in some form as indispensable to their lives.
Meaning as a Journey
At the end of Chapter 4, when Hermes appears to Majnoun, he offers to answer a question for Majnoun. While Majnoun refuses to ask Hermes about Nira's whereabouts, he eventually does work up the courage to ask Hermes what love meant to Nira. Hermes then offers the following response:
What you want to know, Majnoun, is not what love means. It means no one thing and never will. What you want to know is what Nira meant when she use the word. This is more difficult because Nira's word is like a long journey taken by one woman alone. She read the word in books, heard it in conversations, talked about it with friends and family, Miguel and you. No other being has encountered the word love as Nira has or used it in quite the same ways, but I can take you along Nira's path. (147-148)
The central simile here expresses the idea that each person's unique experiences condition their use of language. This idea is meaningful in the context of the novel's other claims about the human condition because it suggests that, save divine intervention, there is no way for humans with different experiences to fully understand each other. Considering how mutual understanding is centrally framed in the text, this is actually quite an indictment of the human condition and seems to provide a logic or justification for many of the social ills that face humans.
Prince's Approaching Blindness
At the end of the novel, when Apollo attempts to sabotage Prince's life and efface his happiness by making him blind, Alexis chooses to describe the onset of Prince's blindness gradually in a series of smilies:
At first, it was as if a grey mist hung over the world. The mist was thin but persistent: a softness, halos around sources of light, things in the distance vanishing as if behind an approaching white curtain. Then, the mist grew thick and close, as if it had turned to fog. Finally, all was grey and Prince could see nothing: no lights, no halos, no cars, no people, no buildings. Only a grey that was grey like grey blinkers over his eyes. (157-158)
These smilies, rather than conveying an unreal or abrupt sense of tragedy, instill in readers a true understanding of Prince's tragedy. Moreover, it provides readers with the sensory cues to imagine blindness for themselves, rather than just to think of blindness as an absence of sight. Both allow readers to sympathize more with Prince as a character and to understand the difficulty of the task he undertakes immediately after—that is, finding the home on Neville Park.
Fifteen Dogs Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fifteen Dogs is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.