Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A principal theme in this story, as in several José Donoso novels, is the complicated relationship between order and chaos, between rationality and irrationality. Before the appearance of the mongrel bitch, the narrator’s household was a perfectly ordered world in which nothing was left to chance, with no room for anything new or unexpected. At several points in the story, the witness-narrator compares his childhood home to a closed book. This comparison highlights the closure and confinement that characterize his family’s life.

Once the mongrel bitch appeared, however, that “world of security” that Aunt Matilde and her brothers had so carefully constructed began to fall apart. Coming from the streets, the dog represents a worldliness that began to crack open the “closed book” of the house. The dog brought into the house the element of chance—she was a foreign body, an agent of worldliness that shattered the sanitized peace and security of the family. One evening, when the dog urinated on the floor of the room in which Matilde and her brothers gathered after dinner to play billiards, the three brothers got upset and retreated to their bedrooms. Although nobody said anything about the incident, it was clear that the family’s life was no longer what it had been.

In order to dramatize the destruction of the household’s order, the author insinuates parallels between events in this story and the biblical story of the Fall. For example, the narrator compares his childhood house not only to a closed book but also to a “heaven,” an artificial paradise shut off from the dangers of the outside world—a world that he knew only through the lights and foghorns of ships in the nearby...

(The entire section is 703 words.)