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 between Herold and his environment. Not only does Becker help him monetarily in his academic pursuit, but he also represents of a religious faith that does “not judge” or “condemn” (79). Therefore, Herold’s connection to Becker introduces a spiritual dimension to his existence and seems to help him embrace Blaise Pascal’s three orders of existence: the physical (money), the intellect (university), and the spiritual (religion).
When Herold leaves school and enlists in the army, he becomes a soldier and functions as unit of a “social order” (78) that becomes progressively blind and “cold-blooded” (78) as the war approaches. When he eventually fills up with hate towards the system, he seeks salvation in Becker, his only companion. To his dismay, Becker, who has been emotionally deadened by the war, severs his connection with Herold and stops writing. Herold’s only option is to confront him, Becker shows no affection or consolation, leaving Herold “totally defenseless” (80). The link between the two young men is now nonexistent; as a result, the chaplain claims the rejection pushes his friend back into his “personal abyss’ (81). Consumed by destructive rage” (81), Herold has transformed into the Mad Dog, a murderer who...