Style and Technique
The most immediately observable technique in this brief tale is the use of italics in the first section. Italics are often used to represent a character’s thoughts; here they indicate the little boy’s unconscious. The two sections of text differ not only in typography, but also are physically divided by three symbols signaling a change. Leaving the boy’s unconscious, the narration moves from first-person to third-person omniscient narration from the woman’s point of view.
The mythology of ancient Mexico provides both the frame and the content of “People of the Dog.” Villanueva’s use of Quetzalcoatl, the symbol of the eagle and the cactus, and the wind god, makes possible the coexistence of a present and a long-ago past. The present is modern-day Mexico, while the past is the Tenochtitlán before the Spanish conquest in the early 1500’s. Villanueva suggests that this past is shared by twentieth century Indians like a Jungian collective unconscious. When the boy dies, his unconscious does not remember death, but rather comments that he will remember birth. Much like the Christian belief that death is a passing on to a new life, the boy is born into his native heritage and delivered from the tragedy of his earthly existence. Although the story takes place in Mexico, the attention to Aztec legends reflects the Chicano interest in regaining the historical homeland known as Aztlán. Villanueva, a Chicana whose grandmother was a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico, sends her tragic young character home.