Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Most critics agree that The Dog Beneath the Skin reflects the political and social realities of the early to mid-1930’s. In the year of the play’s first production, Adolf Hitler had been rising in power for three years, the Spanish Civil War had begun, and European civilization seemed to be once again on the brink of general war. A sense of impending cataclysm continues through the play to Mildred Luce’s hysterical speech at the end: “It’s only play now. But soon they’ll give you real rifles. You’ll learn to shoot. You’ll learn to kill whoever they tell you to. And you’ll be trained to let yourselves be killed, too.” She provides an explicit warning against the militarization sweeping Europe.

In Westland, the illogical logic of paranoia becomes pointedly a satire of Nazi Germany. “Of recent years,” as the First Lunatic puts it, “there have appeared in our midst, masquerading as men of science, certain Jews, obscurantists and Marxist traitors,” specifically recalling the Nazi pogroms and purges. The paranoia becomes international in scale as the Leader of the Lunatics directs his fears at socialist Russia, a nation “schooled in military obedience and precision, saluting even in the cradle.” The lunatics of Westland, however, with their own militaristic posturing, have become the very image of their own fears.

W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood found social inequities to be at the root of the world’s...

(The entire section is 545 words.)