The societies described in “A Boy and His Dog” are marked by strong divisions. Above ground, there are solos, who do not belong to any roverpaks, but instead fend for themselves, often with the aid of a dog. The numerous roverpaks are similar to gangs. They are violent, unforgiving, and intolerant of being challenged. The cinema is referred to as “neutral ground,” indicating the territorial nature of the rest of the surroundings.
Vic puts himself in danger with a roverpak by preventing them from getting Quilla June and then by killing several of them. This episode demonstrates the violent nature of the divisive world, and it is clear from Vic’s narration that this type of clash is common. In fact, one of Blood’s functions is to help warn Vic of approaching roverpaks so that he can stay out of their way.
The downunders represent another division of society. Although they are not internally divided, they live in tight-knit communities that avoid interaction with others. When Vic is in Topeka, he must spend a week wandering the city to allow the residents to become accustomed to him. The downunders are also important in the story because their existence (which is so different from that of the people living on the surface of the Earth) shows the reader that the Earth itself is divided into different realms.
Violence is a major feature of “A Boy and His Dog.” In describing the dwindling and mutating population on Earth, Vic relates a horrifying reality:
“The War had killed off most of the girls The things getting born were seldom male or female, and had to be smashed against a wall as soon as they were pulled out of their mother.”
The story contains many violent scenes, such as when Vic prepares to rape Quilla June, when Vic and Blood fight the roverpak, and when Vic and Quilla June shoot their way out of Topeka. Describing the scene with the roverpak at the YMCA, Vic relates,
“Blood leaped, right over the crossbar of the guy’s rifle held at ready, and sank his fangs into the rover’s throat. The guy screamed, and Blood dropped, carrying a piece of the guy with him. The guy was making awful bubbling sounds and went down on one knee. I put a slug into his head, and he fell forward.”
In addition to the violent scenes, the characters’ attitudes clearly reflect the violent world in which they live. Vic always carries at least two guns, a knife, and a spike. He casually discusses sexual encounters, but the reader soon realizes that he is talking about rape. Quilla June allows Vic to kill her father before she herself tries to kill her mother.
When Vic and Blood seek entertainment, they go to the cinema, where they enjoy violent and pornographic films. They both enjoy films that are bloody and extreme. Vic describes the film Raw Deal by remarking, “Gangsters, mobs, a lot of punching and fighting. Real good.”
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.