Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

Wright Morris has frequently written about dogs and cats. In One Day (1965), a dog wears goggles while riding sitting up in a car, creating the impression that he is driving, and a cat has laryngitis in “The Cat’s Meow.” Usually what is most important is the animals’ effects on humans, as when a cat causes three people to become more alive in “DRRDLA.” What is significant in “Victrola” is that the dog and the man share the same problem: old age. Bundy is bothered when Avery, the druggist, never fails to comment on Victrola’s age. Bundy notices that as Victrola grows older the younger dogs, one by one, begin to ignore him: “He might have been a stuffed animal leashed to a parking meter.” Bundy worries that the owners of these dogs see him in the same way: “The human parallel was too disturbing for Bundy to dwell on it.” When Dr. Biddle says that he will miss Victrola, Bundy believes that the retired dentist’s eyes betray his fear that the dog’s owner will “check out first.”

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Bundy senses that the other old men he encounters at the supermarket are touchy about whether he looks “sharper” than they do, but he considers elderly women he encounters less suspicious: “Bundy found them more realistic: they knew they were mortal. To find Bundy still around, squeezing the avocados, piqued the old men who returned from their vacations.” Still, when Bundy thinks about what will happen “if worst came to worst,” he is not certain whether he is thinking of himself or Victrola: “Impersonally appraised, in terms of survival the two of them were pretty much at a standoff: the dog was better fleshed out, but Bundy was the heartier eater.” When the dog dies and someone finds Bundy a place to sit down, he remains standing as if to offer firm proof, to himself if to no one else, that he is anything but ready to follow Victrola.

Morris’s fiction is full of eccentric old men who wander bemused through a world that they understand much less than they are willing to admit. Sometimes, however, this world seems beyond understanding. In the supermarket, Bundy suspiciously studies “the gray matter being sold as meat-loaf mix.” He is not at all nostalgic for the past, but that does not blind him to the shortcomings of what passes for civilization, as when he enters the checkout lane “hemmed in by scandal sheets and romantic novels.” For Morris’s characters, the vagaries of modern life are something to be passed by rather than fruitlessly grappled with.

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