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Black Dog by Penelope Lively

Brenda Case is a mid-age housewife with personal problems. The English modern short story “Black Dog”, written by Penelope Lively, portrays Mrs. Case as being a frustrated woman with a peculiar manner, besides this she has difficulties to adapt within the society’s norms. This is probably because Brenda Case is going through the largest crisis in her life; the mid-life crisis. This gives Brenda some difficult factors to deal with. She is going through this emotional state of doubt and anxiety, realizing that her life is halfway over.

Through the whole story Brenda is searching or her own sincere character, but has trouble finding it. As a defence mechanism, she supersedes all of her feelings. Was this the life she really would have wanted? The Black Dog symbolizes her “shadow life”. We’re situated in a suburb of England; the Case family is a regular middleclass family. Mrs. Case, who is the principle character, is a housewife and her husband, John, makes the money.

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Their life is characterized by the static tedious daily routine; her doing the shopping and him attending the Job. One day Brenda starts seeing a large Black Dog lying in their front yard.

She constantly has a fear that the dog is going to eat her, basically paranoia of the wild animal. However, Mr. Case cannot see the dog. He even asks all the neighbours, but they haven’t seen the dog either. The colour of the dog should illustrate bad omen and negativity, but was this really signifying bad omen or was all this commotion simply caused by Brenda’s alter ego or her introverted state? As mentioned the dog symbolizes Brenda’s shadow life; the psychological term of the life that she could have had or if you live in the shadow of someone else.

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Mrs. Case obviously did not have a dream of becoming a housewife but she first realized her own character now. Perhaps she was pressurized from outside influences on what to do. This is also shown when Brenda follows the guidance from her two well turned- out daughters; they advice her to go on vacation and redecorate the house. However, when this made no progress they send her to the doctor’s office. All these recommendations are not helping Mrs. Case crisis, she finds out that facing the problem was the right solution for her.

She understands that the Black Dog will be there all the time until she faces the real problem, her mid-life crisis. I would assume answering the question of “What is valuable in life? ” and “What is the meaning of life? ” would be a difficult task. The vagueness of the query is inherent in the word “meaning” and “value”, which opens the question to many interpretations. Some would use theological or spiritual explanations, where others would use scientific theories or philosophical arguments. The power of the words means different things to different people.

Clearly Mrs. Brenda Case has gone through a her ageing children; all of a sudden she did not have to take care of her kids any longer. We can conclude that most outside influences have noting to do with your real self. You need to find your own sincere meaning of what life is and what goals you may have got. Some say a mid-life crisis also is the beginning of individuation and a process of self-actualization that continues on to death. But what is a mid-life crisis? Is it the physical changes associated with ageing or the changing of spousal relationship?

Is it the death of parents or the children becoming adults? Perhaps it is the menopause for women and work issues for men? I guess a crisis through mid-life would involve reflections on what the individual has done up to that point often associated with feelings that not enough was accomplished. Maybe Brenda had the convincing that she one day would be successful accountant manager, instead she became a housewife wearing a pinafore. At the end of the story John Case suddenly see some footsteps of the dog, but what is causing his hallucination? A large question remains unanswered.

Cite this page

Black Dog by Penelope Lively. (2018, Oct 22). Retrieved from

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