“The Tawny Bitch”–Group 1

In the slides, I emphasized that Shawl’s story both embraces and parodies “The Yellow Paper” and the white, heteronormative princess stories so common in the Western tradition.  The tawny bitch of the title, of course, refers to both Belle and the dog as monstrous more than princess figures.  How did you understand the dog in the story?  Real or imagined?  Sometimes one and sometimes the other?  Pick a single moment and explain in a paragraph or two how it helps us define the dog and Belle as mad, sane, or something else.  

3 thoughts on ““The Tawny Bitch”–Group 1

  1. Thomas Dillon

    I understood the dog in the story as being both real and imaginiative, but mostly imaginative as a mechanism to represent Belle’s own frustrations and emotional state while she is essentially tortured and brutalized. One of the first instances that demonstrates the dog’s implied imaginative state occurs when Belle refers to the dog as “An explanation of the tireless barking that plagues my dark hours here, and bids fair to keep me from ever obtaining a full night’s sleep here” (Shawl 265). This characterization of the dog describes it as an internal beast of some sort, constantly barking at Belle and simply adding more annoyance, pain, and suffering to her imprisoned state of living. Whether or not the dog is a direct representation of her own ever-growing madness or insanity is a rather complex dilemma that cannot be fully answered, but is certainly implied. Its qualities, however, certainly depict the dog as an apparition that taunts Belle. The dog is almost a mirror image of how Belle’s aggressors and captors tend to view her: dirty, loud, animalistic, aggressive, and wild, simply because of her sexual preference and skin color.

    Overall, I thought the dog and its subsequent relation with Belle allowed us to define Belle as “mad” despite that definition being rather subjective in nature. There is no doubt Belle’s mental state is teetering towards unstable, but that is in no way self-inflicted. It stems from external causes-torture, abuse, imprisonment, rape- which seems to lead towards the apparition/hallucination of the dog, which is symbolic of her own plight with her oppressors.

  2. Madison Brito

    While I think it makes sense that the dog would be both real and imagined, I like entertaining the idea that it isn’t actually a dog, but an abstract incarnation of a ‘mad’ Belle. Perhaps, the initial discussions of the dog by the other characters are merely suggestions that this side of her was always there. I think these interactions as they’re described by Belle could possibly be imagined; immediately, from the first mention of the dog, you are told that the narrator does not know whether the woman was referring to her or the dog. When the dog lashes out as Belle is attacked by John, this timing seems to coincide with something bubbling up inside of her. The “timely interruption” (268) is almost too timely, as if it was really Belle that lost it and she needed to make this up to give it reason. The barking that keeps her up at night exists before the dog is said to have arrive, and when John thinks he shot the dog, somehow it is back and only wounded. There are too many suggestions of it merely being an apparition, or of it being something supernatural almost, for it to entirely be just a dog. While it is more likely than not that it is actually real but also a symbolic representation of Belle, rather than literally being made up, the reality of its symbolism makes it fantastical and fictional, an element there for the storytelling and ideas, to the point where you must question it. Just because the narrator wrote these instances as if they were real does not mean we have a reliable narrator.

    But that suggestion is a stretch. Regardless, Belle initially rejects the animal rather than comes to embrace it. When she repeatedly says she has ‘all her faculties,’ the dog’s barking irritates her and keeps her up at night. She only sees the shadow of the dog and thinks it cannot be real at first. The descriptions the white characters give of dogs feels strikingly similar to how they seem to feel about black people. Her father describes dogs as “unworthy of their fame as faithful, noble creatures” (seeming to hint at slaves) and as “half-civilized” (274), which to me feels reminiscent of the suggestion that black people are only 3/5ths of a person. The doctor describes the mother with “animality” (271). And there is something so disturbing about how her father thinks of dogs when he thinks of her mother’s death. Did they mistake her for a dog and shoot her? Did she turn into a ‘dog,’ and go mad?

    As the story progresses, she merges more and more with the animal, as “howls of pain and outrage were mingled with [her] own” (278). The doctor says that a “wounded animal is all the more dangerous” (278), overtly hinting at the narrator herself. Just as the narrator gets thinner, so does the dog (280), and the barking becomes soothing to her, as if she has a kindred spirit. As if, barking and fighting is becoming a part of her rather than something she resists. By the end, they act wholly ‘together.’ As she loses her sanity (whatever that means) and starts to plan her escape, she becomes one with the animal, real or imagined. All of this seems to add up not to make Belle and the dog mad or sane, but rather a figure that will fight back. When shot down, it recovers with more vigor, and when imprisoned, it resists through the night. Belle is no longer waiting for someone to come save her like she would be in a princess story, but instead digging her own hole, ready to ‘tear’ and ‘savage.’

  3. Karianne Laird

    An interesting parallel between “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Tawny Bitch” is how both the imprisoned narrators start out disgusted by the object that eventually becomes their obsession. In “The Tawny Bitch”, Belle starts out describing how unworthy dogs are but eventually identifies with the animal and develops an obsession similar to that of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The frequent appearances of the dog eventually become less rational and, instead, seem to become a figment of Belle’s imagination. The dog increasingly becomes a symbol of her own pain and emotions. It seems in the midst of loneliness, the minds of the protagonists in both stories latch on to the few things around them. For example, when Bell is enduring her forced “medical” procedure, the dog starts to bark while she is moaning in pain and fear. Similarly, when she is being attacked by her cousin John, the dog comes to her rescue by howling by the door. In these instances, the dog seams real since others can hear the dog, meanwhile in other moments, it merely seems to be a symbolic representation. For example, when Belle is taken on a walk she states, “something – some animal, perhaps – keeping pace with us on the hedge’s further side.” (273) A little later, Belle states that it was an illusion, and not an actual animal, which she explains by the precision with which it matches her speed and direction. This illustrates that Belle understands her own obsession with the imaginary dog and even amuses herself by imagining how her father would explain this phenomenon. To me, although she does seem to mix reality and imagination, she does not seem mad. However, after I wrote that, I started to wonder what even is the definition of “mad”? Do I think she does not seem “mad” because I sympathize with her and can in many ways understand why she is forced to imagine things in order to escape her terrible reality? She is being punished for loving a woman and is imprisoned alone in a room. This seems like a justifiable reason to become unstable. However, this should not negate her “madness” or does it? Maybe it is easier to label people as “mad” when we cannot comprehend why they are acting “irrationally”?

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