Robert and the Dog by Ken Saro-Wiwa
In Robert and the Dog by Ken Saro-Wiwa we have the theme of control, jealousy, hierarchy and poverty. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes after reading the story that Saro-Wiwa may be exploring the theme of control. Robert, who is a servant, believes that it is easier to control his environment when his employer is a bachelor. Bachelors in Robert’s eyes do not act the same as they would if they were influenced by a wife. If anything Robert feels as though he can not only control the doctor but he can also improve his own situation. He lives in squalor in The Jungle and is embarrassed by this. This may be significant as not only is Robert trying to control his work environment but he is limiting those who visit him at home. Hence controlling his home environment too.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Robert feels as though everybody in his life has a role to play. He predetermines the doctor’s wife’s role and is suspicious of her. This may be significant as Robert may have a belief that women are trouble when they do not know what role he thinks they should play in a relationship. Though some critics might suggest that Robert does not like women (a misogynist) this is not necessarily the truth. Robert may simply believe his life is easier when there is not a woman involved though he is not prepared to let go of the control in work that he has. The fact that Robert arrives late to work on some days may suggest that Robert is taking advantage of his position. He after all is the main servant to the doctor. Who appears to be a very relaxed individual?
Symbolically the dog may be significant. It is possible that Saro-Wiwa is using the dog to highlight how Robert feels when it comes to those he considers to be beneath him and how they are treated. If anything there is a hierarchy that Robert believes in. He now sees himself as being treated less than the dog. The dog lives a life that Robert considers to be better than his. He looks at his own children and does not like what he sees. He simply cannot understand how the dog can have a better life than his children, who are a reflection of Robert. Like him his children are disadvantaged by their environment. They do not have the carefree life that the doctor or his wife may have. If anything Robert may be aware that he will not progress above the role of servant.
The end of the story is interesting as Robert takes his jealousy to a sinister place. He ties the dog to the settee and takes his food. What may also interest readers is the fact that the food for the dog is given by Robert to his children. It may not be a case that Robert considers his children to be like the dog but that he simply cannot afford proper food for them. Which further explains the theme of poverty in the story. Robert’s actions are cruel but he believes in a hierarchy or that everybody or everything has a role to play in life. Robert just can’t understand how the dog should be treated better than him or his family when he lives in poverty.