Marley and Us: John Grogan’s Narrative Devices
Human life is complicated. With all of the activities we pack into one day, it’s a wonder how we get any time to just breathe and take in the beauty of life. For dogs, it is just the opposite. A dream come true is to get few scraps of leftovers from the dinner table. The worst nightmare is to have to take a bath, and a lifetime goal is to finally catch one of those rabbits in the front yard. Dogs naturally enjoy the simple things in life every single day. Marley, a Labrador retriever, is an unintentional constant nuisance in his home. As his owners balance their marriage, jobs, and kids, Marley slowly makes his way to the bottom of the priorities list. All the while, Marley unreservedly loves and seizes each moment without ever looking back. In Marley and Me, the heartwarming story of the world’s most terrible dog, John Grogan uses powerful metaphorical language, parallelism, imagery, and syntax to reveal the many lessons we can learn from our unconditionally loving pets.
Grogan is a very figurative writer and frequently puts a unique perspective on Marley’s outrageous actions and behaviors by employing witty metaphorical language. Marley is described as “broad as a bulldozer” and his tail “as thick and as powerful as an otter’s” (Grogan 24). When John and his wife Jenny take Marley for walks, Marley strolls “like a runaway locomotive strolls” (Grogan 26). Their atrocious canine cost them thousands of dollars over the years with all of the repairs that had to be made. It was “like [they] were living with a wild stallion” (Grogan 56). When the Grogans try to contain Marley with a giant kennel, they come home to a kennel door that “stood wide open, swung back like the stone to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning” (Grogan 173). Readers are astounded by the fact that the Grogans keep their awful dog around, but slowly grow more attached to this dog who never means any harm but acts only out of playfulness and curiosity.
As John Grogan falls more and more in love with his best friend Marley, he uses multiple instances of parallelism to emphasize not only the crazy behaviors of Marley, but also the effects of these behaviors. It is true that Marley “was big…was powerful…[and] was unpredictably crazy” (Grogan 43). It is true that Marley was “a chewer of couches, a slasher of screens, a slinger of drool, [and] a tipper of trash cans” (Grogan 279). But it was also true that Marley’s shenanigans brought the Grogans closer as a family. When Jenny, a stressed out new mother, decided that Marley needed to go, John realized how much he would miss his horrid hound. He made up excuses for her request: “She couldn’t mean it. She loved this dog. She adored him…she was upset. She was stressed…she would reconsider” (Grogan 139). These cases of parallelism intensify the emotions at play in the text, and underscore an important message: though Marley was an unruly dog, John begins to recognize the fact that Marley only does things out of love and never intentionally does any harm.
Grogan also uses strong imagery to paint a vivid picture for his readers; his retelling of events can stir up very real emotions. There is one use of imagery in the book that creates an entertaining image: “Marley was off my lap and scrambling out the window of our moving car…but was up in the air…hind legs clawing for a foothold…suspended upside down by his tail” (Grogan 79). Imagery also becomes important when John and Marley went to the beach. There is a tone of unadulterated joy as “Marley [dashes] for the water, kicking sand…[crashing] into the surf…tails wagging…jaws clamping playfully” (Grogan 201). Some of the emotions brought up by Grogan are not as lighthearted. At one point in the book, John’s neighbor is stabbed and Marley keeps watch as John holds the victim until the cops come. Grogan recalls that “[Marley’s] muscles bulged at the neck; his jaw was clenched; the fur between his shoulder blades bristled” (119). This scene keeps readers engaged and in awe of the first real sign that Marley is a courageous, level-headed dog. From the unwavering loyalty of Marley, we can learn yet another life skill.
Overall, Grogan utilizes clever syntax throughout his writing. Nearly every chapter begins with a short, pointed statement that instantly gets the reader asking questions and wanting to know more. For example, Grogan begins chapter 11 with the words “This pregnancy was different,” which immediately get readers involved and accurately transition into what the chapter will be about (93). Grogan purposefully employs relatively short paragraphs in the entirety of the novel, changing topics seamlessly and keeping the readers engaged. The same tactics are used at the end stages of chapters, where Grogan again directs pointed sentences at his readers, such as, “A week later, Jenny was knocked up” (112). Grogan’s chapters always conclude with surprising sadness, joy, or (in this case) humor. These strategies effectively tangle readers into Grogan’s heartwarming stories, furthering Grogan’s purpose and the themes of his novel.
Marley started out as a mere puppy, bought by John and Jenny to prepare themselves for parenthood. However, Marley ended up growing into so much more. Marley didn’t just teach the Grogan’s how to raise a family; he taught them how to be a family. He taught them about friendship, selflessness, optimism, and unconditional love. The uncontrollable dog that was supposed to be just a pet ended up becoming an indispensable piece in the puzzle that was the Grogan family. Humans often believe that they are the only ones who can think and love and prosper on this earth, but with his boundless energy and generosity, Marley may be more excitingly human than any of us can ever hope to be.
Grogan, John. Marley and Me. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
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