Human Corruption As Seen Through the Eyes of Youth:
A Critical Analysis of Point of View in the Novel Dog Boy


[(Essay date 9 June 2010) This literary criticism written by S.L. analyzes Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy and it’s use of point of view as a tool to portray the innocence of the natural world in comparison to the corruption of humanity and science.]


In Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy a four-year-old orphaned Romochka is adopted by a pack of feral dogs and raised to be one of them. Isolated from all human contact, the boy notices the flaws in mankind more than any average child. Doctor Dmitry, a child behaviorist and neuropsychologist, proves this more than any other human he meets. Switching between point of view, Hornung shows each character’s view and morals on the others behavior, as well as a third person point of view that focuses on the characters from an unbiased view. The switching point of view proves a lack of understanding of the natural world and humans’ inability to realize the great flaws in their own society.

Romochka, having been raised by a pack of dogs, sees them as his family. He develops close bonds that one might have with a human family. He has a mother and many siblings to guard him and he often returns the favor. By using the point of view of a child in the beginning on the novel, Hornung is able to show, in detail, the way Romochka makes close bonds with each dog. Because he is a child, Romochka does not have the corrupt and judging nature that an adult would have. He is a blank slate and uninfluenced, making his point of view a reliable and valuable representation of the world which the dogs live in. He quickly recognizes their personalities, smell, and mannerisms that the reader can relate with his or her own family. Romochka’s close attention to detail proves the developing acknowledgement and bonds that he is beginning to build with the puppies, which influenced his untainted look on life he later develops. When in the dark, unable to see the puppies around him Romochka noticed miniscule details of familiarity:

“He knew when it was Gray Brother who landed on him, because he darted away with agility. Black Sister bit hardest. Brown Brother was clumsy and indecisive about which bit of him to grab and snuffled a lot while he thought about it; and White Sister was a different build and the lightest” (Hornung 30).

Much like a family he had grown so accustomed to the dogs around him and bonded enough to note small aspects of each that distinguished one from another. Just like puppies, the more Romochka played with his new siblings his bond grew stronger for them, making the pack one connected and functioning unit. The innocent love that was harbored amongst them was something that no humans in the novel experiences. In a life-threatening situation, Romochka and White Sister were attacked, tied up, and beaten by a group of home kids (teens with families and homes) and in a logic defying scene his mother dog Mamochka and the rest of the pack come to his rescue after he mentally cried out for them.

“He took a while to notice that White Sister was taut, her free ear swiveling. It broke in on him slowly: Mamochka and the others must be outside […] He tried to moan to draw attention away from the door, although his voice found only a whispering thread of soundless breath, they were looking at him when the room filled with dogs […] he could see the marvelous swirling violence sweeping the room, could feel the glorious strength of dogs as if it were coursing through him” (Hornung 173-173).

The pack knew that Romochka and White Sister had needed help and found them even through they were far away. Through Romochka’s eyes his family had instinctively know he was in danger and come to his rescue. The bonds he built and loyalty they had was greater than any other to the small orphan. The dog’s lack of hesitation in rescuing the two is another great example of how Romochka saw the unwavering love his family had for him, which greatly contrasts not only that of his old abusive human family, but the lustful, false love Dmitry had as well.
Love and family in Dmitry’s point of view was very different, and helps Hornung to display the corrupt nature of even love and family life in humans compared to the loyalty and innocence of Romochka and natural world. Love for Dmitry is complicated and not simple and pure. He and his girlfriend Natalya love each other based off of lust and self-gratification. Natalya had already planned out the type of person she would love from a young age and focused greatly on Dmitry’s looks and he knew it. She had told him she focused on this and she knew the type of man she wanted since childhood.

“[…] bewildered looking grey eyes, his charm, his sexual need and directness and the planes and fine lines of his body […] Since age 15, Natalya had known she wanted a man who satisfied two criteria: he had to be physically attractive to her, and he had to need her help” (Hornung 204).

The selfish desires that Natalya didn’t even bother to hide are a far stretch from the familial love that the boy and his dogs shared. Dmitry also was with her greatly for her attractiveness. In her absence he had nothing but negative thoughts about her, yet the moment she entered the room he was totally enthralled with all that she was, and often unable to say no to her for this reason alone.

“Natalya always got her way. […] As always in Natalya’s company, he lost clarity and eloquence. No one argued with Natalya; most people did the bidding of that marvelous voice and soaked up the sunshine of her approval […]” (Hornung 196).

Unlike with the dogs, Dmitry did as he was told because of how alluring she was, not in order to truly make her happy. He like “most people” wanted something in return for their own gain. Each of their views on love is shown through the eyes of a human characterizes this as normal behavior. Romochka notes that he does not understand the relationship between the two and that in lack the compassion that he and his sibling have.

Similarly to love, the humans in the novel have a skewed idea of family. Dmitry and Natalya decide without asking Romochka that they are going to adopt him at any stake. Instead of going to get him themselves, they send the militzia, street cops who hunt strays and arrest homeless, on a brutal “dogboy hunt” as Dmitry called it. The name in itself proves that he does not see Romochka as a human, but a beast that must be hunted. He encourages and allows the militzia to threaten the boy’s only trusted human friend, Laurentia, into feeding the dogs poison and killing them so they can surround, sedate, and capture the boy. This brutal way of “adopting” his future son shows that he truly has no real respect for Romochka or his feelings. He doesn’t care that he is killing his family, destroying everything the boy knew, taking him away from his home, and destroying his mental stability (his profession as a child behaviorist should have told him it was wrong).

“Romochka’s impenetrable, unknown world that he, Dmitry, was going to smash to pieces with no way of predicting or tabulating the consequences” (Hornung 254).

He was very aware how risky and wrong it was to destroy Romochka’s family, yet because Natalya and he had decided it would be a good idea to adopt Romochka, he went ahead with it anyway. His human condition of selfishness and greed compelled him to taint Romochka’s pure and blissfully innocent life because he was a human, an adult, and could. Romochka had no say and as seen through Dmitry’s point of view, there was not an ounce of hesitance or grief.

Briefly in the beginning of Part II on page 79 as well as Part IV page 193 Hornung adds a third person point of view that takes an outsider’s look on Romochka and Dmitry. On page 19 Romochka’s situation is retold in a summery without his love for the dogs influencing the content. This helps the reader recognize just how much Romochka talks about the dogs in great detail compared to the unbiased point of view. Dmitry’s discovery and capture of Romochka’s human pack-brother, Puppy, is told without Dmitry’s excitement and scientific analysis lacing the actual story. Much like page 79 the reader is able to see just how dehumanized Puppy is by the doctor in a way that Romochka’s child-like innocence cannot see.

The den Romochka and his family lived in was another thing that split the points of view. Through Romochka’s struggles the reader learns that is his only safe haven, which he has decorated with his hunting trophies. It helped protect him and the other dogs from the Strangers, another feral pack, and housed him from the brutal Russian winters. He loves and his proud of his home, defending it fearlessly when drunkards attempt to take it for their own.

“He howled again and all the dogs answered from around the outside of the ruin. He stood for a second, then leapt down, singing the dogs in closer. […] Wherever they looked they saw the glinting eyes of six dogs. Romochka bounded on all fours […] then raised his voice, pulling the hum of dogs with him into a crescendo. The two men screamed again and ran for the street door, the terrible slavering noise of the pack filling the air around them” (Hornung 120).

Attacking or even going near humans was dangerous, and even so Romochka defended his home because it was sacred to him. He did what any human would have done and protected what he loved, his home. It was not just lodgings; he had an emotional bond to it, as did the other dogs.

Dmitry didn’t quite see the house that way. After capturing Romochka he tracked his home down and entered. He could not understand the importance of a lodging out in the streets and informed militzia to destroy it so the boy could not go back to it. Often with no food they needed a warm den, yet even so Dmitry was critical and showed much disgust for the home, instead of being grateful that the boy was not sleeping on the cold streets. When speaking about the den and dogs, both Dmitry and Natalya were both:

“Shaken and affronted that a human child had lived here among these ghastly things, and had most probably taken it as normal, invisible. Nothing could have said more starkly that they lived here on the very brink of death” (Hornung 281).

Romochka’s den had led both humans to draw a very wrong conclusion. Anything that was not of Dmitry and Natalya’s human definition of a home was considered barbaric and unfit. Considering the harsh climate, the den was extremely effective and offered a safe lodging from certain death and illness, but the modern clinic and science, which Dmitry ran, could not save Puppy from the pneumonia that killed him. Illness and death had never touched the pack while living in the safety of their home.

Romochka’s point of view takes the reader’s opinion of the typical poor, sad orphan away. He does not miss his life with humans, and with the knowledge of this the reader understands what the other humans in the novel do not, Romochka is happy and loves his family. There is an incredibly innocent and untainted love that he has for his pack as well as who he is. He enjoys being a dog and aspires to be, in every way, like them. This is a clear representation of the unspoken life of the natural world that can only be told through Romochka. He does not have the corruption and hate of the average human, like Dmitry, and takes things as they are without over thinking them. Through both character’s points of view, the author shows her central theme of human corruption. It is a great contrast to other humans in the novel who take it upon themselves to change both Romochka into something he is not, looking down on him for the sole reason that he is different. He proves to be nothing more than a toy and science experiment to Dmitry, exposing the human greed and lack of respect for the natural world Romochka holds so dear.

(S.L. 2010)





Unwanted Domestication of Birds and the Fight for Freedom:
A Critical Analysis of Birds as a symbol in the Novel The Marsh Birds


[(Essay date 9 June 2010) This literary criticism written by S.L. analyzes Eva Hornung’s The Marsh Birds and it’s use of birds to portray both a lack of free will and a fight for freedom.]

In Eva Hornung’s The Marsh Birds, Dhurgham As-Samarra’i, a young Iraqi boy, is seemingly abandoned and searches for what happened in his past and what will become of his future. He assumes a fake name, travels all over the world, and experiences life caged up like a domesticated bird and longs to live the life of its wild counterpart. The symbol of birds links heavily with his freedom and lack of therefore throughout the novel. His caged experiences far outweigh his freedom and eventually lead to his death.

The first experience of his once blissfully free childhood being taken away began the use of birds as a symbol. He remained ignorant to the fact that his family would not be returning to him until Mr. Hosni quite literally stole him off the floor of The Great Mosque and caged him in his home. Mr. Hosni took control of every aspect of the child’s life by controlling his money and when he was allowed out of his “cage”. The false name, Birdie, only fueled the sick control Mr. Hosni had and increased the symbol’s importance in the boy’s life. His name sets the stage for the bird analogies. Mr. Hosni begins to rape the boy in order to keep him under control, the equivalent of clipping a bird’s wings to prevent it from flying away. The way he addresses the boy as: “My Little Eagle” and “My Birdie” (Hornung 33) further shows the ownership and possesivness he feels for Dhurgham.

“He didn’t want Dhurgham to go to school. School would fill the boy with ideas. School would take Birdie away for six hours of every day. School scared Mr. Hosni” (Hornung 30).

Like a pet bird, Dhurgham is kept in his cage at all times, never aloud to go to school or play with other children. Without his freedom, he was nothing more than a show bird to be put on display. The lack of freedom builds up anger in him and haunts him for the rest of his life.

His entrapment follows him, when he is given false freedom to escape to Australia. Mawirrigun, the Alien Processing Center, was nothing more than one giant bird cage containing birds from around the world, each inmate with dreams of soaring and being free. Like the caged bird’s wing, Mawirrigun’s facilities gave them hope of getting a vista and being free, but the bars contained both. Letting some people go and keeping others kept their hope alive. Dhurgham began watching birds during his two years at the camp. He recognized that they had the freedom that he had wanted, and jealously watched the birds flaunting their freedom.

“If I were a bird […] they could not imprison me. Their luck and our misfortune that we are not birds” (Hornung 91).

Being caged and imprisoned kept them from being real birds, real humans with freedoms and civil liberties. The guards and administration of Mawirrigun would have agreed with this statement. The Arabs were seen as animals and not deserving of the civil liberties. Often they were denied vistas on technicalities because of this. The birds were the white men flying about freely. Giving him false hopes that one day he too could join them, that all birds could one day fly.

The war plays a major role in the novel and the birds make many appearances when Dhurgham remembers his first life, as he calls it, as well. When speaking to Carrie about the war, Dhurgham tells her about the war back in Iraq and the people. He focuses greatly on the birds back at home and what the war had done to them.

“In the war I remember all the birds died […] Stunned out of the sky by the blasts. There were dead birds all over the garden every morning” (Hornung 209).

The birds in this instance symbolize two major aspects of life during the war, the first of which being the affect of war on freedom. The birds, ever a symbol of freedom, were being killed in mass quantities just as their freedoms were being taken away. The birds weren’t the main target, and neither were the freedoms. Both were innocent bystanders destroyed by the horrific effects of war. The second idea that the birds symbolized was the lack of an escape. Birds, which freely came and went to places as they please, were unable to escape. This is a clear parallel to the one thing that Dhurgham would not admit himself and is why he became depressed after the conversation. The birds clearly represent his family. Other than him, he later learns, none of his family had even made it across the border to Syria. They, like the innocent and unsuspecting birds, were killed when they tried to leave. They too were stunned out of their journey to freedom, all because of the war.

After escaping Australia to go to New Zealand, Dhurgham experiences a rather odd change. Although he is still a refugee, he is granted much freedom and, instead of a cage, he stays with another human. Able to stretch his wings, Dhurgham no longer restrains his emotions. He has all the freedom in the world, even without the vista, and uses it to his advantage. This helps him develop close bonds with those around him, but also releases a side of him previously unknown. When discovering that he is no longer able to stay with Carrie and the Johns and is being deported, he changes from “Birdie” to something far worse and unlike himself with a “bird of prey face—the wings of his eyebrows” (Hornung 236). After his taste of freedom, being put back into a cage made him go insane:

“He saw Carrie the as if through a mist, Carrie alone. She looked shocked and frightened, as if she were seeing a madman with no cage to protect her from him” (Hornung 237-238).

The one person who loved him more than any in the world, Carrie, now wanted to once again take away his freedom and put him back in a cage. He was once again seen as a bird, a savage hawk. No longer human, but an animal below them that needed to have its freedom stripped for the safety of those around him. This caging was the breaking point, his earthly freedom no longer possible.

The final scene in the book shows the symbolism of birds more so than any other part in the book. Upon being transferred back to Mawirrigun he is escorted out of the plane and sees that:

“A lone bird hovered, moving and motionless, so near that he could see its clear eye and steady, detached regard” (Hornung 244).

This bird represents his upcoming decision. He is now alone, just like the bird. He has no more fight left in him, no drive because of Carrie’s betrayal. He is the bird, detached and going but making no progress in life. The one thing that differentiates him and the bird is its freedom. This only encourages Dhurgham to make his decision to die.

“A hard grip on his heart opened and something flew away with the rising birds, leaving him in bliss” (Hornung 245).

This is the point which Dhurgham comes to terms with the decision he has made. He was happy with his decision and he fears flew away with the bird. His freedom was riding on the tips of their wings, was the thing that had flown up with the birds. Dhurgham was going to follow his dreams of free will, of no longer existing in the earthly cage where he had no home, no love, and no freedom. He was a pet bird to mortality and ready to accept his well deserved liberty.

“A shot was fired into the air and all the marsh birds rose with a sudden uprush and the whistle and percussion of beating wings. He was running hard now, in long skimming strides, his heart as full and empty as the sky” (Hornung 245).

The tone of this passage is not at all a negative one, and keeps the symbol of the bird set of freedom and the happiness that come with it. His heart being empty of all the suffering he had previously experienced and full of the new life in heaven, free to do as he wished and see his family again. The rising of the marsh birds symbolizes his ascend into a cage-less heaven and his family, as he had seen the marsh birds then too. He was blissfully aware that he would soon be joining them.

“He felt a sharp pain in his chest and felt himself lift with the birds; and then he was in that other darkened, deeper marsh” (Hornung 245).

With his death, Dhurgham lifted with the birds. Lifted the cage off of him and entered a world of eternal freedom. Where no birds or men are caged, and free will is endless. This is the moment that any connection with cages is shattered and once again the bird takes on its pure symbol of liberty and freedom. The symbols of birds varied throughout the novel, but in the end the drive for freedom that had sent Dhurgham from country to country suffering also set him free. The physical and emotional cages of life were shed as he ascended to heaven and death.

(S.L. 2010)