Study Guide

Black Dogs

by Ian McEwan

Black Dogs Essay - Critical Essays

Black Dogs

Jeremy, the narrator, grows up an orphan, attaching himself to the parents of his friends in hopes of finding attention and affection. When the adult Jeremy marries Jenny Tremaine, he acquires the parents he has been seeking in her mother and father, June and Bernard. Although the Tremaines love each other deeply, they are just as deeply divided philosophically. June and Bernard were both fervent Communists when they went on their honeymoon in France in 1946. While there, June discovered God and renounced politics. As a result, they have disparaged each other’s beliefs for the remaining forty years of their marriage.

June’s view of the world changed when she and Bernard became separated and she was attacked by two enormous black dogs, which she fought off with a knife. June and Bernard later learned that the dogs had been left behind by the Gestapo, who used the animals to terrorize the villagers. The encounter taught June about the nature of evil and its opposite: the purifying effect of love. Bernard has never respected her faith, seeing it as superficial and self-serving; Jeremy is skeptical about the values of both Tremaines.

McEwan uses the dogs as a metaphor for the potential for corruption, perversion, and violence in modern Europe. Unifying this theme are a visit Jenny and Jeremy make to a Polish concentration camp, a trip to the collapsing Berlin Wall during which Jeremy and Bernard are caught up in a mob scene, and Jeremy’s nearly beating a brutish father to death near the site of June’s transformation. McEwan avoids placing too heavy a philosophical burden on this slim volume by masterfully developing the protagonists into compelling, human figures.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, October 15, 1992, p. 402.

The Guardian. June 18, 1992, p. 27.

Library Journal. CXVII, October 1, 1992, p. 120.

London Review of Books. XIV, June 25, 1992, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 20, 1992, p. 3.

The New Republic. CCVII, November 16, 1992, p. 41.

New Statesman and Society. V, June 19, 1992, p. 26.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, November 8, 1992, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, September 14, 1992, p. 103.

The Spectator. CCLXVIII, June 27, 1992, p. 32.

Time. CXL, November 16, 1992, p. 103.

The Times Literary Supplement. June 19, 1992, p. 20.

The Wall Street Journal. November 16, 1992, p. A8.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, October 25, 1992, p. 4.