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Progress of Displacement in Mad Dog, Black Boy, and Seventeen Syllables

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Progress of Displacement in Mad Dog, Black Boy, and Seventeen Syllables


Heinrich Böll’s “The Mad Dog” seems to stress that emotional attachments to human beings can prevent an individual’s separation from society’s orders and execution of possibly violent desires. With the Second World War as its backdrop, the tale realistically depicts the hardship of the time period in which Böll has lived. Two other authors who have subtly woven their personal and cultural backgrounds into their fiction are Richard Wright in Black Boy and Hisaye Yamamoto in “Seventeen Syllables.” Raised in the South or a Japanese-American community on the West Coast, the protagonists in both works experience similar progressions of disconnection from home or society as the Mad Dog does.

The narrator in Böll’s story is a physician examining the cadaver of the Mad Dog, Theodor Herold. He is accompanied by a chaplain who was with the Mad Dog during the last few hours of his life. The chaplain, who has become emotionally attached to the cadaver, repeats Herold’s life story to the physician. Raised in a hostile environment, “he never knew” (73) his mother who was a constantly “abused woman” (73) or his father who was brutal and “perpetually”(73) intoxicated. An abusive childhood was the first step toward his inevitable negligence of the natural order. In addition, his unusual intelligence and superb achievement in school created excessive arrogance and self-confidence which further led to his “contempt for all” his patrons]” (74).

Then Herold has his first and only taste of love when he meets Becker, a fellow classmate, who supports him financially as they attend university together. This friendship is the only true emotional connection that exists betwee...


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...uctive rage, Rosie also experiences this feeling with the Mexican worker, Jesus, as he kisses her for the first time. Although her vulnerability is caused by joy instead of despair, the lack of emotional stability could lead to further mental breakdowns. By and large, Herod, Dick, and Rosie are a trio of exiles, feeling dislocated in what supposedly to be their home or community or country.

Works Cited

Böll, Heinrich. “Mad Dog.” Mad Dog: Stories. Trans. Breon Mitchell. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. 67-85.

Wright, Richard. “Looking for a Job.” Black Boy. The HarperCollins World Reader: The Modern World. Ed. Mary Ann Caws. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994. 2438-2444.

Yamamoto, Hisaye. “Seventeen Syllables.” The HarperCollins World Reader: The Modern World. Ed. Mary Ann Caws. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994. 2456-2465.


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