Bluey is Williamson’s girlfriend, fiance´ e, or (less probably) wife. He visits her whenever he can get away from his military duties. As he is blacking out at the beginning of ‘‘Beware of the Dog,’’ Williamson imagines again going to visit her with a bottle of whisky (difficult to obtain during the war). He imagines springing his lost leg on her as a surprise, and also that she will not mind very much. Williamson refers to her by a nickname, as he refers to several other characters.
This was a habit of students at English public schools of the kind attended by Williamson. This can be seen, for instance, in public figures such as Air Chief Marshall Sir H. C. T. Dowding, the officer in charge of Britain’s air defenses during the Battle of Britain, who was known to his friends as ‘‘Stuffy.’’
The doctor who checks on Williamson in the hospital at first receives a positive evaluation because Williamson accepts him at face value: ‘‘He was an Army doctor, a major, and he had some last war ribbons on his chest. He was bald and small, but he had a cheerful face and kind eyes.’’ He tells Williamson that he asked some airmen from his squadron to postpone visiting him for a few days, until he is feeling stronger. Williamson meekly accepts his judgment in this matter. The doctor forms one of a pair of characters with the Wing Commander, representing Williamson’s view of the authority he is under before and after he realizes where he is.
Johnny is the intelligence officer attached to Williamson’s squadron. Williamson thinks of him while he is waiting to be debriefed by an RAF Wing Commander (whom Williamson believes is actually a German intelligence officer). Williamson recalls Johnny telling him and his fellow pilots what to do in case they were captured by the Germans: ‘‘Don’t forget, just your name, rank and number. Nothing else. For God’s sake, say nothing else.’’ Williamson instinctively follows this advice, as he does the rest of his military training throughout the story.
After Williamson, the unnamed nurse who attends him in his hospital bed is the most important character in ‘‘Beware of the Dog.’’ His perception of her changes as his understanding of his circumstances changes. She is the first person Williamson meets when he awakens after blacking out, and the one he has most contact with. His first impression of her is that ‘‘she was not good-looking, but she was large and clean. She was between thirty and forty and she had fair hair.’’ The nurse cares for him efficiently and responds to his needs and requests. As Williamson begins to find discrepancies in the world around him against his expectations, she is able to answer all of his objections. His first doubt is when he starts to ask her about the quality of the water, but then thinks better of it and changes the subject. He clearly does not want her to know that he is questioning the reality of his circumstances.
Once Williamson sees the ‘‘ Garde au chien sign and becomes certain he is being deceived, he sees the nurse in an entirely different way: ‘‘Her hair was very fair. She was tall and big-boned and her face seemed pleasant.’’ This description is similar to the first, but it subtly recasts the nurse as a Nazi, particularly in the Nazi insistence on fair or blonde hair and the emphasis on the ‘‘seemed.’’ Williamson now interprets her actions as a sign that she is nervously playing a false part: Williamson reinterprets her character to fit his new worldview, though there is actually no demonstrable change in her character.
Wing Commander Roberts
Roberts appears in the story only after Williamson concludes that he is being held by the Nazis in France. In this case, Roberts is a Nazi spy, illegally wearing a British military uniform. When he comes to debrief Williamson, Roberts is wearing a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), a medal for military valor, suggesting that he, or the character he is representing, had been in the thick of the fighting during the Battle of Britain but had perhaps been wounded, necessitating his transfer to his current administrative duties. The story ends before the reader can see Roberts’s reaction to Williamson answering his question with only his name, rank, and number.
Squadron Leader Peter Williamson
The whole of ‘‘Beware of the Dog’’ is shaped by Williamson’s character. It is a story about his changing perceptions. The first section of the story describes the drifting of his mind between reality and fantasy as he blacks out from loss of blood out of his wounded leg. Paradoxically, it is here that the reader learns the most about Williamson, since, as in dreams, the details of his everyday life are also the subject of his mental fantasies. He imagines interactions typical in their details, if fantastic in their subject, with the people most important to him in his real life: his military comrades, the mechanic who services his plane, and his lover. His habits of language reveal that he belongs to the British upper classes. His circumstances as an RAF fighter pilot and the probability that he is not married suggest that he is young. Many of his reactions in this part of the story are automatic, the result of ingrained military training. This training, together with the innate ability to react instantly with necessary actions rather than wasting time considering what to do, save his life in the crisis of being severely wounded.
Once Williamson is awake in the hospital, his character is further developed through his reactions to his new situation. He is marked by a strange blend of curiosity and lack of curiosity. He considers the possibility that his mental process has become unreliable because of the trauma he has gone through in the war, most recently losing his leg. However, he dismisses this possibility with little investigation, because he is not curious about his own condition. This perhaps derives from the British aristocratic ethos of the stiff upper lip—that is, stoicism, or bearing difficulties without showing emotion—exemplified by the way that Williamson himself, his nurse, his doctor, and even Wing Commander Roberts dismiss the loss of his leg as nothing serious. Williamson’s own condition is not, therefore, important to him. To the extent he does investigate the matter, he attempts to assure himself of his own sanity through his ability to make a connected logical argument, a standard no doubt inspired by the highly rhetorical education he received in his English public school.
What Williamson is curious about is the world around him. He investigates it through the limited means available to him: listening to the sounds of the air traffic he can hear through the window of his hospital room, the quality of the water in the hospital, and finally what he can see through the window when, with great effort, he drags himself from the bed to look out of it. He always discovers discrepancies between what he finds and what he expects to find in these investigations. He comes to the startling but very sophisticated conclusion that everything he sees is an illusion created by the Nazis to deceive him and that the discrepancies are hints of the real situation. Williamson is supremely confident in his own reasoning and conclusion, and he acts decisively on them, fearlessly revealing, when he is debriefed, that he is aware that he is in Nazi hands. The reader is meant to be swept along by the confidence of Williamson’s character, though other explanations of the facts presented in the story are possible.
Yorky is the first of several characters who are mentioned only during the confused memories and fantasies that Williamson experiences as he is blacking out from shock and loss of blood. Yorky is evidently the mechanic attached to the air base of Williamson’s squadron who services his plane and is the first person to meet him when he lands. (In the fantasy, at least, Yorky also works on Williamson’s car.) Williamson imagines first that Yorky (like the other pilots in his squadron) will think that Williamson is joking about having had his leg shot off, but then Williamson imagines that Yorky will become physically ill seeing all the blood in the plane’s cockpit. ‘‘Yorky’’ is a nickname and may indicate that his true name is York, or perhaps that he comes from Yorkshire, a district in northern England, and hence would have a pronounced accent quite different from the one that Williamson most likely has.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Roald Dahl, Published by Gale Group, 2010