Louise Erdrich

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How does "I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy" reflect American culture and its meaning?

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Louise Erdrich’s story “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy” reflects American culture in many ways but also shows what happens when someone steps outside cultural norms. Let’s look at this in more detail.

As the story opens, the narrator is buying a large stuffed bird for his former girlfriend. This is a little odd in itself, for most people do not purchase large Christmas gifts for their former partners. However, we can see the narrator’s loneliness and lack of connection to the world around him by this gesture. He is trying to fit in, thinking about how he should have won a bird like that at the county fair, yet he never went to the county fair. He knows the culture, but he is an outsider.

Then, for no reason at all, the narrator walks out without paying for the bird. This is, of course, an act that spurns cultural norms, and the narrator is not even sure why he does it. He just acts on impulse. He also steals the car on impulse, not realizing that there is an infant inside.

The narrator continues his escape, eventually getting caught in a snowstorm. He and the baby both survive, and the narrator goes to jail. His place outside of the culture is secured now, and he still cannot explain his actions. He says that he is like a mad dog biting itself for sympathy, outside yet desperately wanting to be inside and to have connections he does not know how to form.

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