Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Lake Ontario (Motif)

Lake Ontario is an important geographic marker in the text that cohesively links together the story's different threads. When the dogs first make their escape from the veterinary clinic, for example, it is the lake that they head to first on account of its irresistible mix of scents (19-20). Later, when Benjy encounters Prince before being taken to the house of Clare and Randy, it is also at the beaches of Lake Ontario (101). Finally, at the novel's close, when Prince reflects on his wanderings and even after his journey to his final home, the lake draws him in, and its scent is one of the last things Prince experiences in the mortal world. In drawing the dogs literally in, and in drawing their narratives together figuratively, Lake Ontario and its beaches are thus symbolic of the pack's shared heritage. To unpack this image just a bit further, consider what Lake Ontario represents physically—it is a natural respite in the man-made city, albeit one that is finite and mostly landlocked. In this way, it might be connected to the condition of the dogs themselves: distinctly non-human, natural elements in the city, whose bodies are as finite and contained as the river.

Mounting (Motif)

One other topic/action that recurs in the text as a motif is that of mounting. The text primarily discusses mounting behaviors within the pack insofar as it is invested in showing how unnatural and significant such behavior has become with the advent of the dogs' human intelligence. Before the dogs' enlightenment, we are told that they simply considered mounting as purely instinctual and entirely a matter of physical dominance. When Benjy recounts his time in the pack to Majnoun, however, we learn that mounting has taken on an entirely new dimension, something more performative, malicious, and even sexual. Separately, when Nira thinks to herself about the factors that contribute to the impasse between herself and Majnoun, mounting is chief among them. While Majnoun sees mounting as an inevitability when a bitch is in heat, Nira tries to convince Majnoun that feminine dignity is also at stake. Thus, mounting in the text serves as a reminder of the dog's former canine instinct, while also serving as a testament to how much human intelligence has complicated and changed their lives.

Wheat Sheaf Tavern (Symbol)

Whenever we see Hermes and Apollo in mortal guise in the text, they are at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern in Toronto. This tavern, a real location widely acknowledged as the oldest bar in Toronto, is significant because it lends Alexis' tale a kind of narrative ethos, a credibility that underpins not only the veracity of his narrative but also the rigor of his philosophical claims. Moreover, and on a symbolic level, the fact that the gods only appear at this location indicates the Wheat Sheaf's value as a relic of human history. It links the origin of human civilization in Toronto to the origin of the new dog civilization that begins with the gift of human intelligence recounted in the novel. It is a testament to the endurance of the very human spirit and human community that they spurn, and yet they continue to return there each time that they visit earth together. The Wheat Sheaf Tavern is symbolic then, not just for its human, historical value, but also for the way in which it bears witness to the divide of mortality that at once fascinates and disgusts the immortals.

Vanity Fair (Symbol)

In Chapter 3, we are told that William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair is one of Nira's favorites. Miguel even goes so far as to have Benjy memorize the first paragraph in order to recite it for Nira as a surprise, though this never actually comes to pass. The novel itself is remarkable for being "a novel without a hero," and one which satirizes the whole of society by depicting even the most likable and relatable characters as flawed. As such, Vanity Fair might be symbolic of Alexis' own project in writing Fifteen Dogs—to expose the follies and flaws of human nature through a pseudo-farcical tale. The fact that Alexis' novel does not appear to have a clear hero in the same way that Vanity Fair lacks one also serves to symbolically and thematically link the two books.

Dogs as Humans (Allegory)

The entire text, as an apologue which uses its canine cast of characters as a vehicle for communicating truths about the human condition, might also be considered as a kind of allegory, in which the virtues and vices of the dogs stand in for the strengths and weaknesses of human society as a whole. Through Prince's drive to compose poetry and maintain the language of his pack, for example, we learn about the creative impulse in humans and the desire to outlast our mortal bodies by creating art. Through Atticus' short-lived rule, we learn about the centrality of regimented hierarchy in human society and the critical interdependence of the elite and subaltern classes. From Majnoun's liaisons with Nira, we learn about the importance of connection between people and how, once understanding between two people is achieved, power dynamics crumble and the door is opened to a true and loving interdependence.