2014-03-05 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Disclaimer: No real dogs or cats were shot or abandoned in the writing of this installment of “Pets.”

Before the results of the recent Oscars ceremony become statistics in the cinema record books, I’d like to examine two pivotal scenes from older Academy Award-winning classics because the mere presence of a dog or cat adds such symbolism. Roll ‘em, camera:

*The rabid dog in “To Kill a Mockingbird”: The courtroom masterpiece based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize novel won three Oscars in 1962 including Best Actor for Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the most ethical and beloved fictional lawyer ever.

When a mad dog starts writhing down the street toward the Finch home, the housekeeper calls Atticus and summons him home. His kids, Scout and Jem, are shocked to see the sheriff beseech their father to grab the rifle from him. Then they watch him take the dog down with one shot and learn that Atticus is the best sharpshooter in the county, a fact that he’s kept quietly to himself.

Look closely and you will see the cat from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Look closely and you will see the cat from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The scene is an English teacher’s delight- a literary treasure trove of symbolism, foreshadowing and allegory. The rabid dog represents the madness in the town surrounding the sham case against Tom Robinson. The real disease isn’t rabies; instead it is racism.

Here’s one high school teacher’s opinion: “The community has rallied against Atticus because they believe that Robinson is guilty simply because he is black. Throughout the book, the Finch family has to buffer themselves against this racism (i.e., fighting off the mob). So the mad dog represents the community’s madness that is based on racism. Further, the mad dog (and the scene surrounding him) is symbolic of Atticus’s strength and resolve and his desire to protect his family. When the mad dog threatens his family, he immediately grabs a rifle and shoots the dog. The children are surprised by this because normally Atticus is very calm and laid back. However, he is a good shot, and the dog dies quickly. This scene shows that Atticus will do anything to protect his family from the madness around them.”

Another teacher ventures beyond the Finch family: “Using this imagery, Harper Lee forecasts the struggle that is about to unfold in the narrative of the story. The madness that is well spread across society is clearly apartheid. There is no room for such dangers and destructive forces in society. The one to exterminate this fear is Atticus. The act of shooting the mad dog proves that it is Atticus who will take that step to ensure that justice will ensue. He has complete control of the situation and with a precise bullet shot he vanquishes any fear lurking in the city. This is later clarified in his powerful arguments against injustice in the court.”

Then there’s the matter of the rabid dog’s name- “Tim Johnson”- which sounds suspiciously like that of another character named Tom Robinson. The judge’s dog has a family last name too. Both Tim and Tom are innocent victims. Mr. Robinson is completely blameless in the fabricated rape charges, just as becoming infected with rabies was not the poor dog’s fault. A bullet ends the lives of both characters.

*The cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: That same year (1962), Audrey Hepburn was nominated as Best Actress but didn’t win for her portrayal of quirky, free spirit socialite Holly Golightly. However, the song “Moon River” from the film as well as Henry Mancini for Best Musical Score did win Oscars.

Holly’s cat is a reminder of the lack of connection she feels to those around her. For much of the story, he represents her unwillingness (or maybe her inability) to feel tied down to anyone or anything, and the fact that she won’t name him. Holly won’t claim the cat as her own because that would signify that she’s putting down roots, and this is something she’s clearly against doing.

She tells Paul (the George Peppard character): “Poor cat! Poor slob! Poor slob without a name! The way I see it, I haven’t got the right to give him one. We don’t belong to each other. We just took up one day by the river. I don’t want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I’m not sure where that is but I know what it is like. It’s like Tiffany’s.”

The movie version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is much different from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella. The author did remain extremely vocal in his disdain for the screen interpretation of his work. In the book, Holly doesn’t find the cat after dumping the tabby out of the taxi in the rain on her way to the airport which symbolizes Holly’s realization that she’s scared about never belonging anywhere or to anyone; whereas, she and George Peppard do recover the cat in the film because it is a Hollywoodromantic ending. They kiss with the cat between them.

Her change of heart plus a more naive portrayal of Holly are the antithesis of the flighty character Capote so skillfully created. He didn’t think Audrey Hepburn was tough enough for the part. Supposedly, he wanted his friend Marilyn Monroe in the Holly Golightly role. She dropped out when told a call girl role might hurt her image. Capote must have yowled when he saw the final scene with the squished, wet cat sheltered by the embrace of the repentant couple. For the record, the celebrated author wanted “Moon River” to go too.

For Adoption: Our poster pup “Jake” just came to Last Hope at 3300 Beltagh Avenue in Wantagh after being at Babylon Shelter for five months. “Jake” is a young Pit with a Pointer profile. He is a lovable fellow who knows the commands sit, shake and wait. Call 631-946- 9528 to find out more about “Jake” and the other Last Hope dogs/cats.

Meanwhile, “Good Girl” is a lovely tabby who came into Babylon Town Shelter, 51 Lamar Street in W. Babylon, with her tabby daughter. Call 631-643-9270 to learn more about available dogs/cats at Babylon Shelter.

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