John Updike

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How to analyze and create a thesis for John Updike's "Dog's Death"?

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Updike's poem "Dog's Death" is about the unseen hurts that creatures we love walk around with and that they cannot survive even though we love them. That is a thesis about the poem. After his puppy dies, the narrator finds out that the dog had been walking around with a ruptured liver. All the time that the family was trying to encourage the puppy to follow rules, such as using newspapers to go to the bathroom and praising her with the words "good dog," the dog was carrying around an injury, perhaps from a brush with a car or a kick, that will kill her. After the dog dies, the family realizes she really was a good dog and had been suffering with diarrhea but still dragged herself over to use the newspaper. Walking around with this unseen injury, she tried to be a good dog until the end of her life. The narrator says, "Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,/ Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared." The narrator is crushed by the idea that his dog died, even though she was loved, and he realizes that love was not enough to help the dog survive.

This poem is not only about the unseen injuries that people and animals carry around in spite of being loved but also about the way death sometimes accompanies life. Another thesis for this poem might be that death is always present, even in the midst of youth. The puppy is ironically moving towards death even as the family is encouraging the dog to embrace the life of a young and healthy puppy. Updike writes, "As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin/ And her heart was learning to lie down forever." While the family encourages the young dog to play, she is already dying. The family did not understand that in the midst of their young dog's life, death already loomed.

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How do I write a thesis statement for "Dog's Death" by John Updike? Do you have suggestions for writing a literary analysis of the piece, too?

Updike's 1958 poem on the subject of a puppy's death is filled with pathos without lapsing into obvious sentimentality or a maudlin tone.

A good way to approach an analysis of this poem is to consider Updike's techniques. Look at how he arranges the stanzas and count the lines in each. Analyze the rhyme scheme; is it regular or irregular? Once you've determined that, think about why that might be appropriate to the subject.

What words are repeated? Why would they be?

What is the speaker's tone, and what words contribute to creating the tone?

How does imagery function in the poem? Are any of the images symbolic?

Remember that modern poems are often meant to observe; what might Updike be observing about the role that pets play in our lives?  What attributes are ascribed particularly to dogs, and how is that at work in the poem? How does the puppy's young age (i.e. not yet housebroken) add to the pathos?

Here are some literary terms that you should consider in writing an analysis of this particular poem: theme, consonance, end rhyme, slant rhyme, symbolism, imagery, quatrain, repetition, and tone.

When writing a thesis statement for a literary analysis, it is a good idea to write a closed thesis to limit the scope of what you will analyze. Acknowledging the theme in the thesis is also recommended. Here is an example:

Updike utilizes symbolism, imagery, and varying rhyme schemes to examine the relationship between people and pets and the emotions evoked by the unexpected death of a family dog.

Note that the thesis statement identifies a theme and three particular techniques that could be the focus of the essay's development.

Good luck with your analysis!

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