The Comfort of Strangers and The Black Dogs

The two Ian McEwen passages I have compared are the openings of ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ and ‘The Black Dogs’. The reason I have chosen these extracts is because I feel they have a lot in common and also some differences. I begin by explaining the titles of each novel. The ‘Comfort of Strangers’ is ironic since usually strangers make a person feel uncomfortable. ‘The Black Dogs’ is an interesting title because a black dog can be seen as something that represents something bad is going to happen.

The titles help reveal reoccurring theme as McEwen’s books do occasionally include strangers (Jed Parry, Enduring Love) and in many of McEwen’s stories bad things happen, this wouldn’t be seen as a reoccurring theme of all his novels really just more of a prediction for the specific book. Both novels talk about a troubled relationship between a couple within the first couple of paragraphs. In ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ the reader is told ‘Colin and Mary are not on speaking terms’ This is evidence that there is trouble in the relationship.

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We have evidence that troubled relationships are a common theme in McEwen’s writing because in ‘The Black Dogs’ the readers are told about ‘the disintegrating marriage of my sister Jean to a man called Harper’. Other examples from other books include the break up of Joe and Clarissa in Enduring Love. In the Comfort of Strangers we have a few quotes that link with the title of the novel. ‘The hard mattress, the unaccustomed heat, the barely explored city’. This is in contrast to the title as it is uncomfortable in the unexplored unknown city (strange).

Ian McEwen’s knowledge if science is also evident in many of his books. In ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ he uses terms such as methodical, psycho – analysts, simultaneously and flying is an example of science in practise. Flying is another thing that relates to Enduring Love as the opening chapter is about a hot air balloon. There were no examples of scientific words or phrases in the extract we were given from ‘The Black Dogs’. Black Dogs does offer us religious imagery which is a contrast to the science as both try to explain the same things but both have different theories about them e. . science has explanations for why certain things happen and then religion believes that it was a miracle with no explanation other than God.

‘A rich yellow light from the open front door revealing in the darkness a white faced adolescent, already six feet tall’ I believe there are two images in this quote that relate to religion. The first image is of the rich yellow light around the person in the doorway. A similar image is often used to make a person seem God-like. The second image is the ‘white faced adolescent, already six feet tall’ this can be interpreted as an image of an angel.

Angels are seen as youthful and the white face is an image of an angel. Another possible religious image in ‘The Black Dogs’ is when McEwen writes ‘overlooking the garden’. This is similar to God looking over the Garden of Eden. Another common theme McEwen tends to use a lot is having a lot of important scenes take place in the bedroom. This is because the bedroom is on top of the house and over looks the whole house. In ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ almost the whole of the extract takes place in the bedroom. This is because the bedroom is on top of the house and overlooks the whole house.

The whole extract of The Comfort of Strangers takes place in the bedroom. The ‘Black Dogs’ talks about being in the bedroom and is the main room where they are in the extract. Another example of important scenes happening in the bedroom is in enduring love where scenes such as the break up of Joe and Clarissa and also Joe receives phone calls from Jed in the bedroom. Another major theme that occurs in a lot of Ian McEwen novels is the dysfunctional families. We have excellent examples from both novels. In The comfort of strangers we have examples of the couple arguing and their children arguing.

The reader is told ‘Colin and Mary were not on speaking terms’ and is also told that the children were ‘bickering all night’. In ‘The Black Dogs’ we are told that the children’s parents died when they were only young and that now their sister is in an unstable marriage and the children often go from one family to the next trying to fit in to a proper family. In ‘The Black Dogs’ there was a lot of strong sentences that help the reader understand this. ‘Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight I have had my eye on other people’s parents’ and ‘unhappy household’.

Other examples include ‘abandoned child’ and ‘the rages and reconciliations’. These all help the reader understand the troubled life’s the children have. In conclusion I would have to say that Ian McEwen does use a lot of the same themes and techniques in his writing and varies the amount he uses them in each story e. g. in the story where he uses a lot of science imagery there is a less religious imagery and also the opposite where there was more religious imagery McEwen added less science. Techniques like using short sentences and lots of punctuation was used to raise tension and anticipation in both extracts as well as in Enduring Love.