Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2: Majnoun and Benjy


The chapter opens with Majnoun waking up in a house after his attack, shaved and with a cone around his neck. He is despondent and doesn't see the point of continuing to live after what he has been through. A man and woman appear in Majnoun's field of vision and comment on his waking up, then decide to keep him. They name him Lord Jim, after Joseph Conrad's novel, and they feed him rice and chicken livers. Majnoun thinks to himself about how unpredictable humans really are.

Six months later, Majnoun is recovering with the same humans and has been thinking constantly, both about his betrayal and about the nature of human communication. He is fascinated by the tones and inflections of the human voice, and he finds it interesting that they ask him questions as if waiting for a response. One day, the woman asks Majnoun whether or not he is hungry, and he speaks the words "yes" and "treat."This terrifies the woman, who flees the room, much to Majnoun's confusion. She takes him to a facility overnight where painful tests are conducted on Majnoun. Majnoun can only think that this is yet another instance of human unpredictability. Surprisingly, however, the woman comes back for him on the third day of his internment. Though Majnoun thinks of running, he gets into the car with the woman, who then begins to talk with him in a conversational format. She tells him that she was only scared because dogs do not usually speak to people, but she does not pressure Majnoun to speak again. In turn, Majnoun only nods, refusing to speak to the woman, who introduces herself as Nira.

Over time, Majnoun's silence and nods endear him immensely to Nira, whose husband is revealed to be named Miguel. Nira, working from home, talks to Majnoun about trivial things first, but then opens up discussion into matters like death and the divine. Nira asks Majnoun whether he believes in God, and Majnoun initially says he does because he believes a "master of all masters" to be possible (49). Over time, though, Nira dissuades Majnoun from believing that "masters" can act in concert, driving him away from ideas like religion and government. When Nira asks Majnoun if he has ever been in love, Majnoun cannot relate, only thinking of the loyalty he has for his master and the uncomplicated relationships of dominance he has with other dogs. He lies and says he knows what Nira means, but they both know he is lying.

By this point, Majnoun has been with Nira and Miguel for eight months. Majnoun is already very close with Nira, but Miguel thinks their relationship is a bit odd—not believing Nira about Majnoun's capacity to speak and thinking Majnoun's understanding of human language to be perfectly average. Nira starts taking Majnoun for longer walks, particularly in High Park, where Majnoun was earlier attacked. Majnoun is asked by Nira whether he would make her wear a leash if their roles were reversed, and he says he would not, which makes Nira uncomfortable. Our insight into Majnoun's thinking, however, tells us that he would make Nira wear a leash if she were clearly his submissive and he her master, a situation that cannot be easily mapped to their roles being reversed. In the park, people often ask to touch Majnoun, and he is picky about whom he allows to do so. While the humans are amazed by his simple "trick" of nodding yes or no when people ask to touch him, Majnoun really is discriminating on the basis of whom he feels belittles his master. For example, when an old woman tries to touch him, Majnoun feels she is entitled and implicitly belittling Nira, so he refuses her. Another complication with the park is that it was the site of Majnoun's maiming. Nira avoids the areas where he was attacked on walks, but when she tries to walk him in different areas entirely, Majnoun insists on going to High Park with the vague hope of seeing his former pack mates.

Eventually, Majnoun runs into Benjy, a self-interested and two-faced Beagle with impeccable instincts. Majnoun does not often walk with Nira in the off-leash area because he does not like the trouble caused when he is attacked by other dogs (though he relishes his victories over other dogs), so he walks with her on adjacent roads. By chance, he runs into Benjy on one of these roads while distracted by Nira's conversation about the government of a distant place. Benjy appears suddenly and enlists Majnoun's help in warding off an aggressive Dalmatian. Majnoun helps Benjy, then asks him what has happened with the pack. Benjy says that would take too long to explain, and asks Majnoun if his master is kind. When Majnoun says that Nira treats him well, Benjy only seems interested in performing for food from Nira. Nira understands Benjy's performance and offers to take him home with them. Majnoun is somewhat annoyed but tells Benjy of her offer. Benjy is fascinated that Majnoun understands English and wants Majnoun to teach him the language, offering to tell him about the pack in exchange. Majnoun threatens Benjy in response, but both know that it is a hollow threat.

At Nira's house, Benjy reflects on his bad luck and starvation during this winter without a master. He tells Majnoun that he thinks him exceptionally clever, and that this is probably why Atticus wanted to have him killed. Respecting the privacy of the ensuing conversation, Nira then leaves the two dogs alone to talk. Benjy offers himself as Majnoun's submissive if only he will teach him English, but Majnoun insists on knowing what happened to the pack. Benjy then begins telling his account of what happened with the pack, but he leaves out any details that might incriminate himself.

Benjy was awake for the killing of Athena and, when he inferred that Bella was also being killed and recognized who the conspirators were, he fled from the coppice in the commotion surrounding Prince's disappearance. After witnessing the supposed killing of Majnoun and seeing his "dead" body, Benjy returned warily to the coppice, not recognizing any pattern in who was killed by the conspirators.

The next morning, Bobbie and Dougie asked after the other dogs, and Atticus explained that he was in charge; further, he said that any dog who speaks the new, forbidden language will be exiled since the pack shall live as true dogs do now. Bobbie objected and chose exile, and the conspirators immediately attacked and killed her. Though Majnoun is mournful when Benjy relates this detail, Benjy secretly admires the conspirators for their passions in service of an ideal, though he sees their choice to kill her as a perverse one (given their word that exile was an option). Benjy says that the days which followed, the first of Atticus' rule, were strange—both because Benjy and Dougie were now the obvious pack submissives and because Atticus insisted that they act like true dogs, even if this meant acting in a way that one could no longer really remember accurately. Eventually, the conspirators and larger dogs let Dougie and Benjy go out by themselves in search of food and materials, which led Dougie and Benjy to becoming friends. Benjy reflects on how he would have liked nonetheless to mount Dougie to assert dominance.

One January morning, when the ground was covered in snow, Benjy and Dougie set out from the coppice. They realized that the larger dogs no longer treat them as well as they used to, so they decided to flee and attempt to ingratiate themselves with a human master. They eventually ran into an old woman, who took them in and treated them well. There were two issues with this home, though: first, the woman was an owner of many cats that she adored, and they were haughty; second, the woman herself was too clingy and nearly crushed Benjy and Dougie when she held them to her. When Benjy and Dougie began to wonder if the woman could kill them with her squeezing, Dougie decided that he could not live in her home anymore. He wished to return to Atticus and the others of his kind, and when Benjy attempted to dissuade him from this, he nonetheless insisted that they leave the old woman. To facilitate their expulsion from the house, Dougie killed one of the old woman's haughtiest cats and left it near her bed. Here, Manjoun interrupts Benjy and says that Dougie should not have done so, since humans protect such animals and call them "cats." Benjy thinks this is a good name for the creatures.

Benjy continues his story. The old woman appeared with the cat in her hands before Benjy and Dougie, clearly in shock and displeased with the dogs. To release the tense emotions they felt within, they began to burst out in laughter. This made the old woman open the door and fall to her knees and pray. Seizing the opportunity, Dougie and Benjy fled and returned to the coppice, with Benjy following some distance behind Dougie. Benjy then saw Dougie run straight from the den upon returning, pursued by the others who intended to kill him. When Benjy tells of Dougie's subsequent mauling and death, he breaks off his story, overwhelmed by emotion. Nira enters the room and asks the two dogs if they need anything, to which Majnoun says no. Benjy asks how Nira can be a master if she does not make Majnoun suffer. Majnoun only responds that he does not know what Nira is to him, but he is not afraid of her.

Benjy again continues his story of what happened to the pack. Though he thought for sure that he too would be killed, he was spared. Though he initially planned to run, Rosie prodded him back into the den, where he was forced to stay even though he no longer belonged. Benjy then saw in the period following that Atticus' pack had changed in many ways—most notably, in their pale imitations of old dog ways that were no more than pure ritual. As an example, Benjy mentions that he was mounted constantly in a non-instinctual, sexual way that implied dominance and status. Benjy thought it was redundant that they continued to mount him for this reason, but he nonetheless accepted it as part of the social order.

One afternoon, Rosie suddenly addressed Benjy in the forbidden tongue and told him that he should not try to run away. When he asked why they would hurt one who seeks to flee, Rosie told Benjy what happened to Max. With Benjy and Dougie gone, Max became the new submissive but resented being mounted so much. Accordingly, he was murdered by Rosie, Frick, Frack, and Atticus when he tried to mount the others. This story made Benjy realize that he, as the bottom of the social totem pole, was just as important to the pack as Atticus. Nonetheless, he did not want to live with Atticus and the pack. His luck changed after two months, however, when he found a "garden of death," a garden poisoned with toxins to keep out dogs, pests, and other animals. In his past, Benjy lived near one such garden and learned to associate its smells with the sight of dead cats, dogs, and raccoons. On journeys from the coppice then, he took note when he smelled such a garden on a dog's breath and near the houses on Ellis Park Road. He then resolved immediately to kill the others in the pack by seeking out the garden and having them eat there.

The next day, Benjy drew them to the smells of the garden and gently nudged them in its direction, not pushing too hard for fear of looking suspicious. They arrived at the garden and all ate heartily of the food there, except Benjy. Benjy's resolve was tested, however, when nothing happened to the dogs after this first visit and even another visit. After the third visit, however, all of the dogs began to bleed from their muzzles and slowly die, except Benjy. While Atticus seemed to have walked off somewhere, Benjy was nonetheless certain of his death and left. What Benjy tells Majnoun, however, is a very sparse account of this tale involving a strange sickness that spared him. Majnoun, however, mistrusts this account of events and has antipathy towards Benjy. Nonetheless, he has a sense of fraternity with him because they are of the same pack.

Majnoun begins to teach Benjy English, taking care to mention that humans do not always mean what they say. As an example, Majnoun thinks of a time that Miguel asked Nira if she was hungry, and this turned into an invitation to have sex. Benjy does not care about such details, however, thinking Prince's poetry has prepared him for the complexity of human speech. Though Majnoun forbids Benjy from talking to Nira, Benjy eventually goes around Majnoun to do so for practice and asks her for things like food and water using English. When he asks Nira for money, however, she spurns him and tells Majnoun. Majnoun bites Benjy and warns him, but Benjy does not see this as a real threat. Benjy instead starts speaking English to Miguel, who takes this for a trick Nira must have taught him. When Nira says that Jim (Majnoun) must have taught Benjy how to talk, he is upset with what he takes to be coyness and teaches Benjy the opening lines of one Nira's favorite novels, Vanity Fair. He hopes to surprise Nira by having Benjy recite these words.

That never happens, however, due to the changed dynamic in the house. While Nira has developed a mistrust of Benjy, Miguel has developed a palpable scorn for Majnoun because he thinks Benjy to be more clever. This perplexes Majnoun, but Majnoun does recognize that Benjy is angling for status. Benjy is correcting Majnoun's pronunciation during their lessons, physically positioning himself differently with regard to Majnoun, and sniffing Majnoun's food before eating his own. In response, one day when Nira opens the door for the two dogs, Majnoun attacks Benjy and attempts to kill him, drawing blood and driving him out through a gap in the fence. When Nira comes outside, Majnoun only says that Benjy ran away, and they never speak of the dog again.


While the previous chapter might have been said to primarily explore belonging as it relates to the dogs in the central pack, this chapter is far more concerned with the relationship between dogs and their masters, both human and canine. As such, this chapter of the novel is far more about power and dominance than the previous chapter. Moreover, because this chapter introduces the two most significant human characters in the text—that is, Miguel and Nira—this chapter also allows us to see, given the relationships formed between humans and intelligent dogs, which behaviors or thought processes are essentially human and which are essentially canine.

In order to understand the idea that this chapter is far more about power than the last chapter, it is key to consider three factors: the chapter's treatment of Majnoun's relationship with Nira, its treatment of mounting and domination, and the struggle for dominance within the home of Nira and Miguel. Where the first is concerned, it is important to note that when Benjy asks Majnoun what kind of master Nira is, Majnoun simply says, "I do not know what Nira is, but I am not afraid" (71). Majnoun, in being able to understand and communicate with Nira fully about topics both trivial and deep, feels that he and she have reached a degree of closeness indicative of equality. In Chapter 4, however, we will see that Nira disagrees with Majnoun about this assumption, and that there is still a gap between them in terms of their emotional understanding of one another. When this gap is later bridged, however, Nira comes to think of herself and Majnoun as equals. Together, then, these points about the relationship of Majnoun and Nira suggest that relationships are only defined by power or dominance when they stem from incomplete knowledge of another rather than, as one might assume, actions taken with a full understanding of another in mind.

A complementary assessment of Miguel's relationship with Benjy, as well as Benjy's relationship with Majnoun, also sheds light on this topic. Miguel thinks that he understands Benjy and Majnoun entirely, but it is his incomplete knowledge of Benjy's true conniving nature that allows Benjy to manipulate him. Further, the fact that this relationship allows Benjy to feel powerful also puts him in a position to implicitly challenge Majnoun with his actions by the end of the chapter (87). In turn, Benjy's incomplete understanding of Majnoun's character leads to his ousting from Miguel and Nira's home. Here too, then, power and displays of power necessarily result from an asymmetry in relationships, where one party's knowledge of the other's emotions is incomplete or misguided.

Understanding the role of mounting in the pack also helps us understand Alexis' claims about power and dominance in this chapter. As Benjy himself recounts, mounting used to be a thoughtless and instinctual matter for him as a dog, but after receiving the gift of enlightenment, Atticus' pack turns mounting one another into an exercise of dominance and power (73-75). It is no longer clear what the purpose of the mounting is, but the action itself becomes redundant for the submissives in the pack, who are either killed like Max or try to flee like Benjy and Dougie. This realization, too, is key because it means that something in the human cognition gifted to the dogs is making them both act in order to display power over each other and respond differently to such displays. Mounting is not new to the pack, but the significance associated with the performance and ritual is. Thus, by elucidating such details about mounting in the pack, Alexis endeavors to think about how a focus on or heightened awareness of power is intrinsic to "primate" thinking. We are scared that others do not fully understand us or have our best interests at heart, and we are perpetually either on guard or hurting others as a result. This is why the existence of the bottom social stratum is comforting to the top social class, as Benjy discovers.

Thinking about power in this way is certainly human, but what else is presented as either uniquely human or uniquely canine in the chapter? The idea of divinity is explored as a potential answer to this question, but as we see, Majnoun is more or less able to comprehend the idea of a god in this chapter (49). In Chapter 3, we will see how Atticus also adopts his own ideas of faith in a divine other. What does indeed remain elusive to Majnoun, however—and what remains elusive to him until he is gifted an understanding through divine grace—is the human idea of love. Nira tries to explain love to Majnoun, but he is totally unable to understand her (50). Later, too, we will see how Atticus and Prince struggle with understanding love, but for now, readers should flag love in their mind as an unknown variable in the calculus between what remains human and what remains canine, despite divine will or intervention.

The divide between what is divine and what is human raises another interesting question addressed in the chapter—namely, which life form is higher? The enlightened dog with its incomparable instincts, or the human with its complex and abstract thought? Interestingly, Alexis is rather equivocal on this topic. With the exception of Nira and Miguel, most humans presented in the novel are simple creatures, easily seen through and manipulated by the dogs with little effort. One example is the old woman that Dougie and Benjy live with. The enlightened dogs see such humans as mere sources of food and shelter, and the dogs seem ready to flee from them at any minute. Other humans like Nira, however, take the time to respect the dogs and are regarded differently and with more authority by the enlightened dogs. This divergence in human behavior when seen from the perspective of the dogs is particularly interesting because it closely mirrors how many humans consider animal life—that is, with some seeing them as a mere convenience for exploitation and others seeing them as companions if not equals. By providing us with a third-person, limited point of view that only focuses on the inner thoughts of dogs, Alexis thus turns the tables on us completely and uses the apologue format to expose how human beings conceive of nature.

Chapter 2 is the longest chapter in the book—and for good reason. It explores the man-nature divide that is central to our understandings of philosophy and ethics, exposes and teases out the human fascination with power and exploitation, and also draws our attention to an understanding of what, if anything, is fundamentally human. These are all important questions to keep thinking about as one continues with the novel.