Almost every element of “A Boy and His Dog” brings the dystopic setting to life. Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia; it is a depiction of a world (usually in the future) that is bleak, emotionless, and harsh. Ellison utilizes descriptions of the physical world in addition to language, attitudes, and culture to fully relate the story’s dystopic setting.
Ellison’s descriptions of the physical landscape create a gloomy picture of post-World War III Earth. Vic mentions the “crumbled remains of the curb,” the “melted stub of a lamppost,” the “weed-overgrown craters,” and the “empty corpses of blasted buildings.” Inside the YMCA, Vic notices a stench coming from a pile of dead bodies that were never buried after the war.
Almost immediately, Ellison demonstrates Vic and Blood’s severe language and attitudes. These characteristics are consistent throughout the story, reflecting their reaction to the hopeless world in which they live. They are products of their environment, so they speak with profanity and relate to each other harshly. Distrust is central to their world, which is evident in the way the characters interact with one another. Vic and Quilla June have no chance of ever achieving true intimacy, and it is hardly surprising that they betray each other. Vic and Blood are loyal friends, yet they often treat each other with disrespect and meanness.
The culture of Ellison’s dystopic world is cruel, violent, and divisive. In the absence of law, everyone knows that there are no consequences for violence, so they continue to victimize one another. Quilla June knows that she is being followed by someone who will rape her, and Vic knows that the roverpak searching the YMCA building will kill him if they find him. Vic is so accustomed to his violent world that when he stays in Topeka, he is bored and disgusted. He comments, “Inside a week I was ready to scream…. The clean, sweet, neat, lovely way they lived was enough to kill a guy.”
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Harlan Ellison – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.