Why should it be that tragedy is so much more tragic when it happens to our canine cousins? Take the following brief passage from Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies:
In one thing, Kiku and Hashi actually envied Milk a little: though he’d lost his mother early in life just as they had, Milk later got a chance to meet her…Though she was completely changed since their last meeting, Kiku immediately recognized one of them as the white dog from the mining town. A patch of fur was missing where Gazelle had hit her, her eyes were cloudy, and she drooled a bit, but it was unmistakably the same dog. Her right front leg was bent and dragged along the ground. Milk, having no idea that this was his mother, growled quietly for a while, and then seemed to lose interest and passed on with the boys. The mother never even glanced up. When they had gone quite a distance, Milk stopped at the crest of a hill, shook himself and gave a long, mournful howl.
This is, up to the point where I’ve read, the saddest scene. In a book that begins with a mother abandoning her child in a bus station coin locker, that’s saying something. Reading it now, the disembodied passage above doesn’t even reflect the full tragedy of the scene – in the book, Milk’s mother is beat to the point of death protecting her child. The fact that she doesn’t even recognize her own pup, the one she suffered so much for, and that Milk doesn’t recognize her, is what makes this scene so heartbreaking. It’s a sacrifice of love that, in the end, amounts to nothing. It’s horribly depressing.
But how is it that this scene is more rending than some of the others scattered through this dark story: a mother unceremoniously dumping her child in a bus station locker to suffocate to death; a kindly woman knocked to the ground by an uncaring teen and then later dying in bed next to her adopted child; a little boy poisoned in an industrial accident until his skin literally falls off of his face. These scenes of humanity at its darkest and most tragic don’t affect us (at least me) in the way that a botched reunion between a couple of animals does. Perhaps that’s a tragedy in and of itself.