El Hombre que se Convirtio en Perro: Author, Summary & Theme

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  • 0:04 Absurdist Literature
  • 1:06 Plot Summary
  • 2:13 Life of Osvaldo Dragn
  • 3:41 Analysis
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How can something completely absurd make you rethink your world? In this lesson, we'll find out by examining Osvaldo Dragun's famous absurdist play about a man who becomes a dog and how this absurd idea actually hits an emotional nerve.

Absurdist Literature

There's something beautiful about the absurd. Absurd literature extends what is feasible beyond the limits of fantasy to such a degree that the outcome is laughable. Through that laughter, irony appears and makes you come to terms with the absurdities of your own society, as only irony can.

But the absurd can be portrayed in different ways. Think of Kafka's famous Metamorphosis, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a giant cockroach, and you're never given any explanation as to why. It's absurd. But how much more absurd would it be if Gregor wasn't a real cockroach, but only acting like one and everyone still treated him like an actual bug? That level of absurdity is where we find Historia del hombre que se convirtió en perro, a short play written by famed Argentine dramatist Osvaldo Dragún in 1957. It's about a man who turns into a dog…but not literally. He just starts acting like one. Think that's absurd? Yeah, that's the point.

Plot Summary

Historia del hombre que se convirtió en perro, or The Story of the Man Who Became a Dog, tells the tale of an unnamed man who is out of work. He tries hard to find a job, but is told that work only becomes available when someone retires, dies or is fired. Then, someone dies. It's the watchman's dog, who the audience is reassured has died of old age after years of hard work.

So now, there's a job available, and the man is forced to take a position as a watchdog. He moves into the doghouse, which he complains is too tight, but the boss shows him how to fit into it, and is taught to bark and growl. His wife is forced to move in with her friends, driving them apart. As the man is unable to find other work, he becomes more and more dog-like, eating dog food and showing his wife affection by nipping at her. In the end, the wife realizes she is pregnant and is afraid her baby will be a dog. The last we see of the man, he has fully adopted the behaviors of the dog and is running on all fours and barking. Everyone treats him like a dog because to himself - and to society - he is the watchdog.

Life of Osvaldo Dragún

So, the play ends with everyone treating a human like a dog all because the only job available to him was a dog's job. How do we begin to interpret this? Knowing a bit about Osvaldo Dragún's life will help.

Dragún was born in 1929 in rural Argentina to a Jewish family. His father was a horse tamer and by all accounts took great pride in his work. Then, the Argentine economy crashed. Dragún's family was eventually forced to give up their life of horse taming and move to the city, where Osvaldo's father was forced to take demeaning work so the family could survive. The playwright remembers the defeat his father felt as this became his life.

So, Osvaldo grew up very much aware of the unfairness in the world. He wanted to go to law school, but became attached to theater and the power of plays to impact people's opinions. So, Dragún became a playwright and dedicated his life to using theater to teach the masses about social issues and make them confront the absurdities in Argentine society.

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