Themes and Meanings
“The Man with the Dog” explores the themes of social and cross-cultural tension that recur throughout Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s work. It appears in her collection A Stronger Climate: Nine Stories (1968). The three stories in this book’s “sufferers” section focus on Europeans who have stayed on in India after independence. They are left experiencing the bitterness of being old in a country that is alien to them.
Boekelman and his circle of European friends know only a few words of Hindi and remain determinedly aloof from the life of India and ordinary Indians. The narrator explains that they are really more like family than friends, “the way they both love and hate each other and are closely tied together whether they like it or not.” Having no other family, they cling to one another with all the blind loyalty and resentment that forced dependency breeds. They celebrate birthdays and holidays together and visit their sick friends. Nevertheless, they may not be on speaking terms with each other for months, even years, and are given to gossip and backbiting.
When the narrator is alone with Boekelman, he readily ridicules various women friends but will not tolerate her saying anything against them. He draws a rigid distinction between those who are in his circle and those who are outside it—for whom different rules apply. Even Boekelman’s intimacy with the narrator fails to blur this distinction.
(The entire section is 451 words.)