Last Updated on November 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 883
Expanding Ideas of Love and Family
Concepts surrounding love and family are prevalent and recurring in The Art of Racing in the Rain . One of the most significant examples is the struggle for custody of Zoë, which takes place between her father (Denny) and her grandparents (Trish and Maxwell)....
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Expanding Ideas of Love and Family
Concepts surrounding love and family are prevalent and recurring in The Art of Racing in the Rain. One of the most significant examples is the struggle for custody of Zoë, which takes place between her father (Denny) and her grandparents (Trish and Maxwell). Although Enzo sees Denny as the hero and Trish and Maxwell as the villains, the truth is that Trish and Maxwell are only fighting for custody because they love Zoë and want the best for her as much as Denny does—and they have the finances and the time to provide Zoë with more care and opportunities than they believe Denny can. In spite of this adversity, Zoë's whole family loves her and wants the best for her. The conflict arises out of a disagreement about what “the best” truly means.
Love and family are also explored at the very beginning of the novel, when Denny tells Enzo to “Take it easy, kid. . . . I’ve got you” (chapter 1). Because Enzo is a dog, the word “kid” can be interpreted as expressing how deeply Denny cares about him; it means that Denny has come to think of Enzo as part of the family.
What these examples illustrate for Enzo is that family and love can take on different forms: they can change under different circumstances, involve new people, and be expressed in a wide variety of words and actions. Love can be shown simply and directly, through something like a hug, but it can also be shown indirectly, with gestures (for example, when Denny’s parents pay Denny’s legal fees, which helps him regain custody of Zoë). At first, Enzo resists changes to his family—such as when Eve meets and marries Denny—but as the story continues, he expands his idea of what a family truly is and how members of a family can show they care for each other.
Anticipating and Accepting Death
Death is a major part of The Art of Racing in the Rain from the first page, when Enzo reveals that he is dying and wants Denny to euthanize him. But different characters approach death in different ways. When Eve finds out she has a brain tumor, her initial reaction is one of fear, and in chapter 23, she asks Enzo not to let her die:
Get me through tonight . . . that’s all I need. Protect me. Don’t let it happen tonight.
From earlier in the story, we know that Eve is afraid of doctors and hospitals (as evidenced when she refuses to go to the doctor after cutting her hand). She is also afraid to die. Her feelings might stem from her fear of the unknown, or perhaps from her desire to remain in control. Eve’s initial reaction to her diagnosis contrasts sharply with Enzo’s attitude toward his own impending death: after seeing a documentary about Mongolia on television, Enzo believes that dogs are reincarnated as people, and in his eyes, dying will bring him closer to becoming human. Whereas Eve feels powerless and doesn’t know what to expect from death, Enzo believes he knows what will happen when he dies, and his attitude toward his own death is positive. With time, Eve comes to accept her own fate as well.
Denny, on the other hand, has a difficult time coming to terms with Enzo’s and Eve’s deaths. He remains in denial up until he receives a call that Eve has passed away and again is in denial when Enzo’s health begins to decline. Enzo resorts to dramatically showcasing his ill health so that Denny will have no choice but to realize that it’s time to put him to sleep.
Death is presented in a number of different ways in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but most of the focus is on anticipating and accepting death as opposed to coping with it afterward.
Communication and Its Limitations
There is a clear contrast between the way Enzo communicates and the way human characters communicate in the novel. In fact, Enzo tells readers early on that he believes the primary difference between himself and humans is the ability to speak. But humans still have difficulty communicating with each other at times. For example, when Annika—a teenager—tries to flirt with Denny, Denny doesn’t know how to communicate that her interest is inappropriate; Annika later becomes angry with Denny and falsely accuses him of assault. Had Denny been able to communicate a clear set of boundaries earlier, his troubles with Annika likely would never have happened.
By comparison, Enzo understands a good deal of what is being said around him, but he cannot speak. He communicates mostly through actions. For instance, Enzo believes it is a bad idea for Denny to sign a settlement that would allow Trish and Maxwell to become Zoë’s primary caretakers, so he destroys the paperwork. Denny may not understand exactly what Enzo wants to say, but Enzo’s actions inspire him to continue fighting for custody of Zoë.
Both Enzo and the people in his life have trouble communicating with each other, and the events of the novel show that just because people can use words doesn’t mean they always know how to use them.