Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Man with the Dog” is essentially a character sketch. However, its portrayal of character extends beyond the single dimension; Jhabvala manipulates the first-person narrative so that it not only presents a third-person portrayal of Boekelman but also allows the reader insight into the narrator herself. The author again uses this technique, though in a more sophisticated form, in her novel Heat and Dust (1975). The narrator of this work uncovers the scandalous story of her grandfather’s first wife, revealing much about herself in the process. The novel’s narrator, like that of “The Man with the Dog,” remains unnamed—her anonymity increasing her potential to reflect her environment and the people in it. What the reader in each case learns about the narrator and her subject generates other awareness, including the nature of relationships and also social and cultural contexts. The technique thereby provides the reader with a multilayered experience of the story. It also allows Jhabvala to present her characters and their situations with a certain amount of irony.

Critics have compared the complex of satire and familiarity found in Jhabvala’s fiction with that of English novelist Jane Austen. Jhabvala’s particular blend of intimacy and objectivity is generally traced to her geographical and cultural rootlessness. The title of a 1973 essay on her by Ramlal Argarwal, “Outsider with Unusual Insight,” gives a clue to her singular vision. While living in India, Jhabvala was in the unusual position of being simultaneously an outsider, as a foreigner, and an insider, as a member of an Indian family.

Critics have also identified the influence of Jhabvala’s screenplay writing on her later fiction. “The Man with the Dog,” in its unfolding of character and situation, apparently draws on cinematic techniques such as the dissolve and the flashback. Throughout the story, the narrator constantly—and almost seamlessly—shifts back and forth in time.

It is worth noting that Jhabvala includes “The Man with the Dog” in her retrospective collection, Out of India. When asked how she selected the fifteen stories for this collection, she responded that because they were the ones that she “remembered most vividly,” they “must be the ones that somehow came out the best.”