Laertes and Hamlet

Hamlet is often seen as one of the greatest tragic figures in all of literature. He is very much motivated by love and revenge and they both play an enormous part in his tale. The love of his father, the shock upon discovering how he was murdered, and the need for justice is what fuels Hamlet. Not only does these elements drive him to act but they drive him over the edge as well. While Hamlet is certainly a pitiable figure, one could make the argument that Laertes, his rival, is even more so. Hamlet and Laertes have a lot of common, perhaps more than they would ever admit, especially when it comes to their motivations. One could almost say they’re two sides of the same coin but ultimately, their choices are what really set them apart.

To understand where Hamlet and Laertes are coming from, one has to explore their backgrounds, their personalities, their relationship with their families, and how they all tie into their actions in the end. Hamlet is the prince of Denmark, nephew of the current king Claudius, who took the throne after his father “passed away.” Hamlet is about as privileged as the main character can get without being the king himself but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that. While he doesn’t let the idea of royalty get to his head, he isn’t particularly grateful for what he has, either. That’s not to say he’s greedy but all in all, he’s pretty much indifferent towards his status or how much better off he is than other people.

Laertes is the son of Polonius, the king’s counselor, and while he doesn’t have it bad by any means, he’s still considered lower than Hamlet, at least in terms of class. It’s also implied that Polonius is not of noble birth but somebody who crawled their way to the top and managed to gain the favor of the king. Laertes, however, seems to appreciate what he has, and family means more to him than wealth.

Not that family doesn’t matter to Hamlet but after he learns of his father’s murder, he decides that he was the only member that ever meant anything. He is so distraught by the news, describing it as, “Murder most foul, as in the best it is/But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.” (1.5.27-28) Everyone else is pushed away at best, such as his lover Ophelia, or loathed and eventually killed at worst, such as his mother Gertrude. Laertes might not be as well off as Hamlet but he has more in terms of family and in turn, love. As corny as it sounds, wealth is no substitute for love and aside from his father’s spirit and his own memories, Hamlet has nobody to turn to, nor does he let anybody in.

Having cut himself off from so many people, Hamlet is trapped in his own mind, and little by little, he slips into madness. Even in the beginning of the play, he is shown to be a withdrawn figure, still in the process of mourning his father. He is even still wearing black, much to the confusion of his mother. As he says, “Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not “seems.”/‘Tis not alone, my inky cloak, good mother/nor customary suits of solemn black.” (1.2.76-78) Gertrude tries to get through to him, believing that he has spent too much time lamenting for his father, despite the fact that he has only been gone for a short while. She pretty much tells Hamlet to move on, to not let his emotions get the best of him but it’s already too late for that.

Much of Hamlet’s personality is shaped by his pain and despair and the fact that he has no outlet and never makes an attempt to find one. He simply can’t, knowing what has happened to his father, what he could have done to prevent it, and how nonchalant his mother and uncle are towards the whole loss. Hamlet is a perfect example of untreated depression and how it can tear somebody apart. According to the article “Depressive Illness Delayed Hamlet’s Revenge,” Hamlet’s actions could have been the result of his depression or it could have been the catalyst for his choices.

As Dr. A.B. Shaw puts it, “I suggest that the explanation most consistent with the evidence is that Shakespeare has depicted a man with an acute depressive illness with obsessional features, unable to cope with a heavy responsibility. At the time, there was no concept of depressive illness and Shakespeare would have seen Hamlet’s melancholy as a character defect.” (A.B. Shaw, Medical Humanities) What’s striking about this passage is how it delves into the idea of mental illness during Shakespeare’s time, how it wasn’t seen as legitimate diagnosis, and how it probably wasn’t intentional on his part. This adds another layer to Hamlet’s tragedy because maybe there could have been another path for him. Maybe he could have found another solution besides murder.

Hamlet spends a great deal of the play basking in misery and hate, so much so that it becomes commonplace for him. In fact, the only thing that gives him any joy is when he finally kills his uncle. Even then, one can argue whether it’s joy or mere satisfaction, something to fill the void after all that grieving. Not to mention, he kills his mother as well, which is just as horrible as the previous murder. Just like his uncle, there is plenty of blood on his hands, and knowing it’s his own mother’s, that makes it even worse.

Laertes, while just as complicated as Hamlet, is more fierce and fast in terms of his personality. He has a tendency to act on impulse, often jumping to conclusions, a trait he inherited from Polonius. That said, he is not as full of himself as Polonius and he has shown to be deeply loyal to him as well as his sister Ophelia, his protectiveness coming out in full force whenever they interact with each other. It can said that Laertes is a bit too protective, to the point where it may be read as clingy, but it’s evident that he loves his sister and would do anything for her and wants to make sure she’s safe. While Hamlet is cold to her and shoves Ophelia away, Laertes is caring and devoted to her, showing that he has more of a heart.

Neither men are saints by any stretch of the imagination but the heart is what separates them as well as their personalities. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s heart gets more and more frigid and he only has room in it for his father and Laertes’s heart is shattered by the deaths of his father and sister. Both of them are broken but in their own way, riddled with anger and sorrow and the need for justice, but the damage is more apparent on Laertes’ end. Laertes never did anything to Hamlet or his family, he just happened to be the son of the king’s counselor and their relationship, prior to the king’s murder, was fairly decent. They were not the best of friends or anything like that but they got along well enough.

That is, until they gradually drifted apart and Hamlet treated Ophelia like garbage. Just because Hamlet was having issues with his own family and unable to cope with his father’s death didn’t justify his treatment of Ophelia and Laertes tried to talk her out of that relationship. Clearly, it was getting toxic and, feeling complied to help his sister, he tried to get her to dump Hamlet. Though he could have been better with his wording, he had good intentions but it all came crashing down by the final act. Hamlet and Laertes both like to think they have their best interests in mind, they like to think they’re doing the right thing, but they’re usually prone to terrible choices and planning. When it comes to Laertes, sometimes planning isn’t even an option. He’ll just rush right into the problem, believing he can fix it, only to find out it was much more complicated than he realized.

If there’s one thing Hamlet has over Laertes, it’s mulling everything over, basically weighing the options before he springs into action. Hamlet’s most famous monologue deals with the subject of death and murder, what he wants to do and what he needs to do. To him, revenge is a need and he’s the only one can deliver it. Of course, this makes him wonder if he can really go through with it. It begs the question, will it all be worth it in the end? Considering how much Hamlet dwells on this, one might say that he’s a procrastinator and if Laertes were in his position, he would have taken the sword and gutted the murderer by now. According to the article “Hamlet and Revenge,” even Hamlet doesn’t know what’s taking him so long and why he can’t just up and avenge his father right away.

As Kiernan Ryan writes, “There’s no point asking Hamlet why, because Hamlet himself is baffled by his inability to act promptly. He rebukes himself bitterly in Act 2 after watching an actor weep, convulsed with simulated sorrow for an imaginary character, who means nothing to him.” (Kiernan Ryan, Discovering Literature: Shakespeare) One might also say that Hamlet is more talk than walk and he spends more time bemoaning his issues than solving them. It all comes down to interpretation but it can’t be denied that Hamlet takes his time and considers the possibilities.

For as impulsive as Laertes is, he is much more action-oriented, somebody who’s willing to throw himself into anything all in the name of loyalty and family. There is something to be admired about that, despite it being his greatest flaw. Laertes is not as quick to think as he is to act and this comes back to bite him in his last encounter with Hamlet. After using the poisoned sword on Hamlet, the latter wounds him with it and he too dies from the impact. His last words are, “He is justly served/It is a poison tempered by himself/Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet/Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee/Nor thine on me!” (5.2.299-303) This is an intriguing moment because even though Laertes is killed by his own sword, he doesn’t curse Hamlet out but rather, asks for his forgiveness.

Laertes’s humanity shines through in this scene, and he realizes that at the end of it all, he and Hamlet are both fatherless victims. Not that that excuses Hamlet for killing Polonius or causing Ophelia to drown herself but Laertes can see it from his perspective and why he had to kill Claudius. In fact, Laertes even praises him on the task, knowing that Claudius deserved it. In that moment, they’re not rivals but two men who have been broken by the circumstances, that needed to get back at the person who destroyed their lives, even if that person was Hamlet from Laertes’ angle. Laertes, for all his flaws, does have a sense of compassion and it’s pretty impressive he’s willing to forgive Hamlet, especially as he’s dying right in front of him.

Much of Laertes’ compassion is shown with his family, particularly his relationship with Ophelia and in a way, their story is much sadder than anyone else’s. There is no mention of their mother or what happened to her so it can be assumed that she died a while ago. Their father Polonius is also rather pompous and absent-minded and occasionally, Laertes feels more like a father figure to Ophelia than him. He is much more responsible than Polonius and he wants to keep his sister safe and happy but doesn’t always express it in the best way. He even refers to her speech as “a document in madness,” not knowing how to react to her downward spiral. (4.5.173) He’s been taking care of her for so long, he knows her better than their own father, but there’s nothing he can do to snap her out of it. What makes this even more tragic is all he can really do is watch. It’s reminiscent of somebody seeing their loved one in an asylum, knowing who they were before and realizing that, no matter how much they wish or hope, they will never be the same again. Like Hamlet and Laertes, Ophelia is damaged mentally and emotionally and her death takes an immense toll on him.

Admittedly, Laertes does come off a bit patronizing at times, as if Ophelia can’t do anything by herself, and he treats her more like a child than a grown woman. Although this was the norm during Shakespeare’s time, it can be extremely awkward to a modern reader. In any case, Laertes still loves his sister and is determined to help her out but like Hamlet, she is a lost soul, finally drowning herself in the fourth act. Ophelia’s death is what throws Laertes over the edge as well as her lack of a proper burial. It’s definitely his most vulnerable moment and that’s when Claudius appeals to him, insisting that Hamlet is the one who caused all this and he will be at peace when he kills him. As the king puts it, “But to the quick o’th’ ulcer, Hamlet comes back.” (4.7.124-125) It’s his love of Ophelia and his loathing of Hamlet that fuels Laertes from now on. Having lost his whole family because of Hamlet, Laertes becomes the more sympathetic of the two, his desire for revenge becoming more personal.

Not to dismiss the loss of Hamlet’s father but it’s not the same when Laertes lost a father and a sister and Hamlet had a hand in each of those. Not only did he slay Polonius, he took advantaged of Ophelia’s emotions, telling her to forget their courtship and become a nun. As Hamlet puts it, “What should such fellows as I do crawling be-/tween earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all;/believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.” (3.1.128-130) This scene is significant because Ophelia is the only woman (besides his mother) that Hamlet interacts with and he’s willing to throw their relationship out the window because his obsession with revenge is too great. On the whole, Hamlet doesn’t value her feelings or the idea of family, save for when it involves his dead father.

Hamlet’s relationship with Claudius and Gertrude is also complicated because initially, he still cares for his mother and doesn’t want her to marry him but as soon as she goes through with it, she’s all but dead to him. He even goes as far as to question her love for his father and shames her for sleeping with Claudius. Another incredibly awkward scene, in which he says, “Good night—but go not to mine uncle’s bed/Assume a virtue if you have it not… Refrain tonight, and that shall lend a kind of easiness to the next abstinence, the next more easy.” (3.4.161-169) In short, Hamlet basically tells his own mother to keep her legs closed. As strict as Laertes could be, everything he did was to protect Ophelia, to keep her from getting hurt, and there was never a scene that matched this one in terms of its awkwardness.

While the relationship between Laertes and Ophelia can and has been interpreted as something incestuous, especially with how protective he is, one can’t ignore the creepy vibes from Hamlet and Gertrude either. There’s a sense that he’s jealous of her being with Claudius and there is a big emphasis on his disgust. “She married. O, most wicked speed, to post/With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!/It is not, nor it cannot come to good./But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” (160-164) As revolted as Hamlet is, it makes one wonder why he is so focused on the physical aspect of the relationship? In fact, why is he thinking of his mother sleeping with his uncle in the first place? She is still the queen and it is part of the task but he can’t deal with the idea that she’s his mother and his aunt now.

Claudius doesn’t make the situation any better, wanting to marry Gertrude as soon as possible, believing it would be best for all of them to move on. In Nicholas Bonnet’s article “The Manipulative Nature of Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” it touches upon the relationship between Hamlet and Claudius and how the latter played a great part in their downfall. Although Hamlet makes a lot of questionable choices, most can be traced back to the reveal of his uncle as the murderer.

As Bonnet writes, “Despite his rise to power seeming to have been carefully planned and executed, he nevertheless encountered certain things that he did not expect, such as the appearance of the ghost of his victim that ignited Hamlet‘s thirst for revenge.” (Bonnet, Inquiries Journal) That’s not to say Hamlet wasn’t responsible for his actions, he certainly was, but Claudius was the spark that caused the fire. He was able to manipulate Hamlet as well as Laertes, tapping into their emotions, and in Laertes’ case, the need for payback. In a way, Hamlet inherits Claudius’ skill for murder and as a result, he destroys his own family as well as Laertes’. Laertes, on the other hand, was only trying to look out for his father and sister and later, avenge them. This makes him the more sympathetic character and, if Hamlet wasn’t the title character, the true protagonist.

Works Cited:

Shaw, A. B. “Depressive Illness Delayed Hamlet’s Revenge.” Medical Humanities. 2002. Web. <http://mh.bmj.com/content/28/2/92.full&gt;

Ryan, Kiernan. “Hamlet and Revenge.” The British Library. 16 Nov. 2015. Web. <http://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/hamlet-and-revenge&gt;.

Bonnet, Nicholas. “The Manipulative Nature of Claudius in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Inquiries Journal., 2010. Web. <http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/150/the-manipulative-nature-of-claudius-in-shakespeares-hamlet&gt;.

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Puchner, Martin. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. Print.

Of Print and Technology

The debate between print and technology has been around for quite a while and as the latter grows more and more advanced, so does the worry about the future of literature. Dr. Alvin Kernan’s essay “Plausible and Helpful Things to Say About Literature in a Time When All Print Institutions Are Breaking Down” delves into this subject and what may or may not happen to the state of literature as time goes by. When the television first appeared, many in the publishing industry were beside themselves, wondering what that would mean for the sales. A common question was why would anybody want to read the news when they could access it via television?

While the advent of television certainly changed the world of entertainment, it changed the world of news as well. Now all it took was a remote to see what was going on with the world. Some would call this a marvel and a sign of progression, while others would call it a curse, the downfall of literature and ultimately, the act of reading. As the television was replaced by the internet, the idea of literature dying out has gotten more and more focus, to the point where many people believe that all books and newspapers will be exclusively online in a matter of years.

Dr. Kernan’s essay is fascinating because, although it was published in 1991, it illustrates many of the fears people have about literature and where’s it going with the quickly changing technology and, if something is published online, if it really counts as literature. Though the internet wasn’t nearly as vast in 1991 as it is now, the fact that it existed and that information could be spread throughout it issued many different reactions from people. Some saw it as a tool of the future, a way to share and preserve writing, and others saw it to be manufactured and impersonal, that writing is much more powerful in print.

Each argument has its pros and cons but it can’t be denied that without technology, some works would have been lost forever. Even the act of writing on tablets or stone walls could be seen as the first technology. Dr. Kernan mentions that writing or rather, the act of it has been around since before the common era but he doesn’t mention the tools they used in the process. He states, “Since writing appeared in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and especially since the print revolution began about 1450, first the manuscript and the book have been the privileged modes of communication and information storage in Western society.” (9) There seems to be this idea that print is superior to all other forms of writing, despite that it wasn’t even the first form.

Some forget that writing was discovered on stones, tablets, and even bones and without them, writing wouldn’t have become what it is today. If somebody from ancient Egypt were to go to 1991, they would likely ask what makes reading books any better than reading tablets? Fast-forward to this era and there are many people asking why reading from one’s computer or phone is better than reading a book. It’s become something of a running gag, parents puzzling over why their kids are so addicted to their gadgets, despite that their own parents probably chided them for watching too much television or listening to the radio instead of reading a book.

The idea that technology is killing literature is not completely impossible but there are quite a few flaws in that argument too. The internet may be filled with ads and quizzes and all sorts of other distractions but there are a great number of sites dedicated to preserving literature and history. There’s only so much that can be contained in a hardcover encyclopedia but with the online world, there is no limit. For example, if one wants to look up Dickens, all one has to do is type his name under Google and thousands of sites will pop up. Granted, not every site is a hundred percent accurate but the same can be said for books. No matter what condition the book is in, there is still a chance of finding one or more typos in it.

Some might say that books are more important than online sources because they’re the real copy, they’re how the author intended their works to be read but there are many books that have been edited and reedited over the years, until they barely resemble the original version. Sometimes, it’s a case of censorship and other times, chunks of the work were lost in some way. Dr. Kernan mentions how the distribution of books is an issue as well, how some companies don’t put enough time and effort into the process and, as he describes it, “As a result, books are filled with misspellings and poor grammar; they are too long and poorly organized.” (14) It makes one question if the companies don’t want to put out their best material, why would others want to pick it up?

It’s true that less and less people read for fun but at the same time, can one blame them when they aren’t being given quality? The problem isn’t with presentation but with content. One look no further than the bestseller lists of the past five years to see what’s wrong with this picture. It’s not about technology, it’s about society and what we deem as a good book. When something like Fifty Shades of Grey receives as much fame and fortune as it does, it really does feel like the death of literature. However, despite the internet being a part of its popularity, it has also given way to discussions about literature as well as saving it, such as sites like The Poetry Foundation and Goodreads. Had Dr. Kernan written his essay nowadays, it would be interesting to see what he would say on the subject.

Sources:
Kernan, Alvin. “Plausible and Helpful Things to Say About Literature in a Time When All Print Institutions Are Breaking Down.” (1991): PDF

The Case of Elizabeth Bishop

Drafting is one of the most biggest elements of the writing world and just by mentioning the subject, it can induce a number of groans, even screams, depending on where the writer is in terms of their work and if they have a deadline. Writers are always going back and fixing their pieces, even if they haven’t touched them in years. There’s a common practice in which the writer will scribble down their first draft and stick it in a drawer for months at a time, only to revisit the work and see how it holds up. More often than not, the writer will find it’s not up to their standards and use this opportunity to get rid of the spelling errors and the prose if it seems too clunky or cheesy.

Many writers have been and still are considered perfectionists, such as in the case of Elizabeth Bishop, and it would take a lot of rewriting and revising for her to be completely satisfied with her work before she submitted it. Bishop, in a way, was a lot like an inventor working on her latest machine, trying to fine-tune the engine and get rid of the scratches, wanting everything to run as smoothly as possible. After her death in 1969, she left many pieces behind, which were gathered in a 2006 book entitled “Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments.”

The book, which was edited by Alice Quinn, who is described as “an executive director of the Poetry Society of America,” was subjected to a lot of scrutiny as well as debate when it was published. (http://arts.columbia.edu/writing/faculty/alice-quinn) Some felt that Quinn was disrespecting Bishop’s memory and craft by publishing the book, insisting that she wouldn’t have wanted those poems to be seen by anybody, not until she was fully satisfied with them all. It was seen as prying into her personal business and tantamount to ripping a page out of her diary. Even at her best, Bishop was known for criticizing every last element of her work and wanting to make sure nobody got a chance to saw it until she felt it was ready.

In a New York Times article entitled “New Elizabeth Bishop Book Sparks a Controversy,” a professor by the name of Helen Vendler was greatly opposed to the release, stating that by publishing the works, it was doing a dishonor to Bishop and her craft and she never would have been okay with it. Vendler was sure that Bishop would have been humiliated by the idea, that so many people were reading her works before she got a chance to perfect them and they should have stayed locked away, possibly in a drawer somewhere. Vendler also didn’t hesitate to say, “Had Bishop been asked whether her repudiated poems, and some drafts and fragments, should be published after her death, she would have replied, I believe, with a horrified ‘No.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/01/books/new-elizabeth-bishop-book-sparks-a-controversy.html)

While there is something noble to be said about respecting Bishop’s privacy, Vendler didn’t mention if she had read the book and if there were any poems that she thought were good enough to be in it. Of course, Vendler didn’t want to see the book published in the first place but at the same time, one can’t help but wonder if any pieces would have caught her eye, had she given it a chance. Quinn didn’t publish the book as a means to disrespect Bishop or her writing skills. On the contrary, she found that Bishop’s works were so deep and powerful, they had to be shared with a wider audience. Not only would it allow the new readers to become familiar with Bishop but it would give them the chance to see more obscure and fascinating pieces. In Quinn’s eyes, it was a way of honoring Bishop, putting her or rather, her writing in the spotlight and letting others be able to discover and appreciate it.

While Bishop is a highly regarded poet by many, she is not as familiar with the average reader in the way somebody like Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman is. Quinn’s book would introduce her to the casual audience and perhaps that would lead to them looking into her other works. In the book’s preface, Quinn did make a note of Bishop’s need for constant editing and perfecting but she didn’t throw away these pieces either. It makes one wonder if they were so bad, why didn’t she chuck them? It seems like a reasonable argument but still, Vendler believed the book would do more harm than good. However, a man by the name of Frank Bidart, was certain that Bishop would have thrown the works away if she didn’t like them. As he put it, “Believe me, Bishop was perfectly capable of destroying things. If she never wanted these to see the light of day, she would have destroyed them.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/01/books/new-elizabeth-bishop-book-sparks-a-controversy.html)

Both Quinn and Vendler have a valid argument, in that Quinn did violate Bishop’s privacy, albeit to help her and her writing and Vendler should have read the book to understand where Quinn was coming from. Both are obviously big fans of Bishop and care about her work and Quinn even mentioned that it was an incomplete collection. Maybe it’s not the way Bishop would have wanted it but at least other fans can pick it up and decide for themselves whether it’s a loving tribute or too close for comfort.

Sources:

“Elizabeth Bishop.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/elizabeth-bishop&gt;

“Alice Quinn.” Columbia University School of the Arts. Columbia University, Web. <http://arts.columbia.edu/writing/faculty/alice-quinn&gt;.

Rich, Motoko. “New Elizabeth Bishop Book Sparks a Controversy.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 1 Apr. 2006. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/01/books/new-elizabeth-bishop-book-sparks-a-controversy.html&gt;.

The Dogs in My Life

I have always been a dog person, even when I was child and “dog” was one of the only words I knew. Though I do love other animals, dogs have always been my favorite, hands down, and I have bonded with quite a few throughout my life. I have learned so much from living and working with dogs, such as the value of patience, keeping a routine, trying to understand others and their stories, the power of teamwork, and of course, the gift of unconditional love. I can say with all honesty that dogs are one of, if not the most, loving species on earth, and there is nothing like coming home and seeing your dog after a long and stressful day.

I think everybody (or at least, almost everybody) would agree that life really sucks sometimes: it’s harsh and exhausting and filled with people who care only about themselves and what they can get out of you. While this isn’t the case for all people obviously, it still rings true in many situations and in my opinion, it’s no wonder many of us prefer the company of our pets. While I don’t consider myself a cynic by nature, I do find it hard to trust people sometimes. Not only can I empathize with certain dogs, but I can relate to them to an extent. Looking after dogs has taught me to be careful and on my guard but also to keep my faith in others. It takes much more time and effort to build trust than to break it, and when the bond between human and dog is established, it makes the whole experience worthwhile. Most dogs only live to be teenagers, some don’t even reach that, which is such a shame because they leave an incredible impact on their humans. In this piece, I will be discussing the dogs in my life, what they meant to me, and what I learned from them.

Some of my earliest memories involve spending time at my grandmother’s house and playing with her dog Cindy. Cindy was a mix between a Rottweiler and a Doberman, two breeds that have gotten kind of a “bad” reputation over the years, as pushed by the media. Like pitbulls, they have been painted as “tough” and “aggressive” and in some cases, “beyond training.” It’s really frustrating that a lot of people believe this, just based on the news. Cindy was one of the sweetest and friendliest dogs I knew, the definition of a gentle giant, and even when I was five years old and all of three feet, I was never afraid of her. She was the sort of dog who just wanted to roll on the ground and have her belly scratched. She could knock me over in a second, but instead, she would rest her head on my knee, often bringing over her toys and dropping them on it too.

Cindy was a beautiful dog with a thick black coat and brown patches on her stomach, face, feet, and the underside of her tail. When she was sitting down, her Rottweiler side was more obvious with her floppy ears and broad frame but when she started to run, her Doberman side came out with her long limbs and agile movements, her head always high. Amazingly enough, Cindy got along with my grandmother’s cat too. Instead of treating Oreo like an oddity or an enemy, she would let him lie on her back and occasionally, against her stomach, almost as if she adopted him instead of my grandmother. Cindy had a maternal quality about her. Whether she was interacting with dogs, cats, or humans, she was always soft and protective and kept an eye on everybody. When I was really little, I tripped over her bed and instead of giving a start or growling at me, Cindy placed a heavy paw on my arm, almost as if to say, “It’s okay, small human. It was just an accident.” Cindy was the first dog in my life that taught me to be cautious, not flinch when I was around big dogs. Even now, I find myself gravitating towards big dogs because of how misunderstood they are. That’s not to say I go patting the head of every single one, I definitely ask for permission first, but I find most are really sweet and more docile than they look. When I was around nine or ten, Cindy passed away after a long illness but she was the first dog that helped me understand big dogs and know how to approach them, not fear them.

Unfortunately and ironically, I developed a fear of little dogs for a while. This was due to an incident that occurred when I was five. My family had just gotten a dog from a pet store at the mall, which, now that I look back on it, was not a bright idea. His name was Archie and he was a hyper little corgi. Though we didn’t know it at the time, Archie, as well as the rest of the dogs, came from a puppy mill, somewhere in the South. I can’t remember exactly what state it was or how long the mill had been in business but all the same, we wouldn’t have bought him if the pet store manager had been honest with us. We had Archie for about a week, not enough time to really get a sense of his personality. At first, there was no sign that he was a troubled dog and my family was prepared to train him and give him the best possible care. My parents knew Archie would require a lot of time and work and they made that clear with my sister and me. We hadn’t gone into this blindly, we knew about the commitment and responsibility and we were determined to give Archie a good life.

For the week my family had Archie, he was a bit difficult, but no more than the average puppy and we had come to expect that anyway. As a kid who loved dogs, I was looking forward to playing with Archie and teaching him all sorts of tricks. I knew how to approach him, I never played “rough” or yelled or did anything to freak him out, despite how young I was. My parents and grandparents taught me well, and it still pains me to think about what happened to Archie and what else could have been done to help him. I remember it was a mellow sort of day and we were hanging in the living room, my sister and Archie on the couch, me on the floor. I had drifted away from whatever game I was playing, getting up to pet Archie, keeping my hand out so he could sniff it, just as my mom had instructed. My motions were slow, tentative in a way, but for some reason, Archie must have felt threatened and he sprang after me. Before I could even react, he tore into my jaw, blood spurting down my face and on the floor, my sister screaming as she tried to pull him off me. It took her, my mom, and my grandma to wrestle Archie back into his crate and my grandma brought him back to the pet store.

Later, after getting seven stitches and waiting to be discharged, I learned that Archie was taken to the local animal hospital and put to sleep. In a way, I was relieved that he wouldn’t hurt me again or anybody else, but in another, I was heartbroken because I knew, even in my little kid mind, that it wasn’t Archie’s fault. He came from a bad place, I realized after talking it over with my mom, but he wasn’t a bad dog. As I grew up and read up on puppy mills, I knew Archie was a product of his environment. I can’t imagine what kind of conditions he and the other dogs lived in, how they were raised, and who was looking after them.

Every time I read a story about puppy mills and what people are doing to stop them or shut them down, I can’t help but think of Archie. I can’t help but think of what his life would have been like, had somebody rescued him from the puppy mill, before he was taken to the pet store. They don’t see the dogs as living and feeling beings, they see them as toys who can withstand anything. It makes me sick when I go into a pet store and the employees couldn’t care less about the dogs they’re looking after. To make matters worse, there’s always a bunch of people knocking on the glass and shrieking over the puppies, not knowing where they came from or how they were treated. Archie, at least on the outside, looked like a perfectly healthy dog, but we later found out that he was not vaccinated and had spent the first few months of his life locked in a cage. Even though I have Archie to thank for the scar on my jaw, I still mourn him and what might have been. One of my relatives, an aunt who delighted in stirring up drama, thought I had done something to provoke him, essentially blaming me for the attack. Fortunately, my mom and grandma were quick to shut her up. To this day, I don’t know what I could have done differently, wondering what would have happened if I stayed on the floor, but it was a harsh lesson learned.

At this point, Cindy was still a part of my life and while I wasn’t afraid of her, I made sure to be extra careful with my motions and my voice. I let her approach me, rather than the other way around, and she proved to be a big comfort when I was still in panic mode. However, my cousin’s dogs were not as easy or mellow as Cindy. Picture a couple of tan chihuahuas barking to no end and snapping every time anybody (besides my cousin, of course) went to pet them. At that time, it was only a year after my attack, and I grew to dread seeing those dogs because they weren’t trained at all and my cousin seemed to write off their behavior as a joke. They might have been small, but to six-year-old me with a scar on her jaw, they were anything but funny. I can still see them circling everybody’s legs, almost like a couple of tiny brown sharks, showing their teeth as soon as anybody got close to them.

I never knew what happened to those dogs, since my cousin was not the best owner around (and that’s putting it nicely), but between them and Archie, my wariness of little dogs grew more and more evident. I began to associate little dogs with horrible attitudes, an idea I look back on with shame and regret. It was wrong of me to stereotype little dogs like that and whenever I catch myself doing it now, I hastily correct myself. All dogs deserve a chance, no matter what size or breed they are or where they come from. A couple years after my attack, my family decided to get another dog but this time, we vowed not to buy it until we knew their background, how it was treated, and what its living situation was. Eventually, we found a breeder in New Hampshire who raised German and Belgian Shepherds and mixes and we paid her a visit, soon falling in love with a puppy. She was a German-Belgian mix, all black with a white patch on her chest, her chin, and around her backside and we named her Dominoe. (We added the E to indicate that she was a girl but in retrospect, it does seem a bit silly.) Dominoe was like a breath of fresh air after the attack and all the drama with my cousin’s dogs and she reminded me a lot of Cindy. Though she wasn’t a giant per se, she was certainly gentle and had a majestic air about her.

At first glance, Dominoe might have been mistaken for a wolf instead of a dog because of her height, her thick fur, especially around her head, and her intense dark eyes. That said, whenever she met anybody, all she wanted to do was jump on them, lick them, and nudge their hand so they would pet her. Dominoe was the epitome of sweet, her tail always wagging and her tongue hanging out, and she was a big fan of belly rubs.

She was tender with smaller beings, whether they were puppies or children, and when we got another dog, a shih-tzu poodle called Eddy, (her full name being Edna, after Edna Mode from The Incredibles), she became a sort of mother figure to her. At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of the tiny furball who looked more like a stuffed dog than a real one. Often, she would tilt her head and nudge Eddy with a paw and Eddy in turn would yap at her, all three pounds of her ready to scrap. Dominoe, however, was anything but aggressive, and she would lie down beside Eddy, letting her huddle against her stomach for warmth. Eddy was still teething and she would chew on pretty much everything, even Dominoe’s tail. Most dogs probably wouldn’t have stood for it, but Dominoe never gave any indication that it bothered her. In fact, it was common to walk into the living room and see Dominoe just lying there, seemingly contented as Eddy would gnaw on her tail the same way a baby would at a teething ring. It was both strange and adorable to see them together and how well they bonded, this big beautiful wolf-like dog and her small Ewok-looking companion.

Dominoe and Eddy were a massive part of my life and I can recall many afternoons, coming home from the hell that was middle school and never feeling better than when I saw them. To them, I was the coolest kid on the block and whether I was gone for five minutes or five hours, they were always happy to see me as I was with them. In those days, I didn’t have many friends, nor did I make much of an attempt to talk to people, fearing they would turn me away before they really knew me. My dogs helped me through a lot of rough spots, making me laugh and lighting up those dark days when all I wanted to was crawl in bed and never leave. Dominoe and Eddy were more than happy to crawl up there with me and keep me company. Even when I wasn’t having a bad day, they always liked to follow me and make sure they were in my sight.

Some people like to claim dogs are simple, one-dimensional animals who care more about their next meal or walk than anything else. While there have been many debates on this subject, some serious, some not, I find them to be more complicated than that. Dogs do have a fair range of emotions. They can know happiness and triumph as well as pain and grief. When Dominoe passed away, having succumbed to a heart tumor, I noticed a change in Eddy. She was far more quiet and solemn, as if she was wondering where her best friend went, wishing she would come back. Sometimes she would wait at the door, expecting to see Dominoe hurry through at any moment, other times she would lie at the top of the stairs, in the same spot where Dominoe liked to nap. Until that day, I never knew that dogs could mourn and the image of Eddy lying in that spot stuck with me for the rest of my life.

When I was a senior in high-school, I started working at a shelter for retired and injured racing greyhounds. The job included taking them outside, cleaning their cages, giving them massages for their ailments, and preparing them for adoption. It was an eye-opening experience, knowing how much those dogs have been subjected to, helping them regain their footing as well as trust. The topic of greyhound racing tends to evoke mixed reactions from people, not unlike the topic of horse racing. I could write another essay about the ethical problems of greyhound racing, but on a positive note, many people are out there trying to help the dogs and get the sport banned or the rules tighter. My boss, a greyhound breeder, taught me about these practices and I have been keeping up with the news about them ever since.

When the shelter closed down and reopened in another town several miles away, it pained me to say goodbye, but I had to commit to school and taking care of my dog as well. Eddy passed away back in September and I miss her every day, wishing she could have met my new dog Charlie.

Charlie is a four-year-old German Shepherd, and his story is a bittersweet one because although he came from similar situation to Archie, he was given a second chance. His original owners kept him in the cellar, rarely letting him out or feeding him and when the people at the SPCA picked him up, he was covered in dirt and his own waste, his ribs showing through his skin. Over the course of a few months, Charlie has made amazing progress, reaching a healthy weight and learning how to bond with other dogs slowly but surely. He still has separation anxiety, crying at the top of his lungs when I have to leave, associating it with abandonment. That said, as soon as I come home, he hurries right at me like Dominoe and Eddy, leaping up and licking my face. Like the girls, especially Dominoe, Charlie is a sweet and humble soul, still full of love despite his past.

Each of these dogs taught me an important lesson in life. Cindy taught me to be gentle and not to be intimidated by bigger dogs or people for that matter. Archie taught me to be understanding and sympathetic because you never know what somebody has been through. Dominoe taught me to be patient and not let the little things get me down. Eddy taught me that just because you’re small, that doesn’t mean you’re weak, and to not take crap from anybody. The greyhounds taught me to be careful and to lend a hand to those who need it. Last but certainly not least, Charlie taught me that everybody deserves a second chance and a loving home.