Similarities and Differences
Emotions and Drama in Dogs
The most prominent similarity between the three stories is the use of building emotions and drama in the dogs. Both the son and the father describe emotions the dogs are feeling and narrate the words they believe the dogs were thinking. This is actually a reflection of what both the father and the son and thinking but they use the dogs to express these feelings.
In dog story one, the son states the dog should have forgiven him by then, referring to a time the father requests him to call his mother. The dog is given the feeling of forgiveness when there is no proof that dogs can experience forgiveness. The son also states the dog is not happy with him, which suggests the dog is upset or angry. Once again there is no evidence that shows dogs can experience either of these emotions.
Story two consists of the father giving Clinger gestures and both the son and father narrating what they think Clinger is saying about jumping on the bed. First the father says Clinger shook his head, as if the dog is capable of shaking his head in confusion. The son first narrates Clinger with the use of evoking the deity and demonstrates confusion as to why the bed moved. The father comes back and continues to narrate Clinger based on the son’s words making a reference to time. Animals have no sense of time and it is impossible for an animal to express confusion about time.
The third story consists of the father narrating Clinger about his thoughts on running into a screen door. The father claims the dog is thinking, “What the hell are you doing?” when animals cannot experience confusion. The father uses the word “hell” to show the dog is having a hard time and cannot get past the moment. Dogs are not able to feel if they are having a hard time.
Another common item over the three stories is the use of laughter. Laughter is used to show the speakers found humor in the situations, and possibly laughter is being used as a coping mechanism with the mother’s cancer (W. Beach, personal communication, October 9, 2008). In story one the father uses laughter to show he thinks it is funny the dog is mad at his son for giving the dog a bath. Story two has laughter from both the father and the son about Clinger jumping on the bed, missing the bed, and then seeming confused by it. The third story consists of laughter in a way to show the speaker finds humor as well as a way to end topics the receiver does not have an interest in. The son first laughs at the dog running into the screen to show he finds humor in that situation. But then when the father goes on for a while about the dog’s vision being impaired the son laughs as his response two times. In turn the father stops explaining and moves on.
The use of oh is different across all three stories. In story the father uses one “oh” twice. First the oh signifies he is guaranteeing what the son said about holding the dog down in the sink is true. The second oh is exemplifying John Hertiage’s idea of change of state token (W. Beach, personal communication, October 9, 2008). The father was given new information and hence his response was “oh”. The son uses “Oh” as an expression of inapposite news in the second story. The son hears the dog tried to jump on the bed and missed and his response is “oh”, like wow I cannot believe he did that. The third story has a different version of “oh”, the word “ahh”. The father uses this “ahh” to finish up his story and open the conversation to a new topic.
Evoking the Deity
Evoking the deity is used in both stories two and three but not in story one. Evoking the deity is used to describe times of trouble that Clinger cannot control. The stories about Clinger come across as much more intense than Charles’ story and there is a stronger need for evoking the deity. In story two the son first says “Oh jeez” to hearing the dog missed the bed. The dog was in a time of trouble so the use of jeez was used. The second time the evoking happens is when the father narrates the dog to say “God” about running into bed because this was a time of trouble. The father narrates the dog to say hell to express confusion in a bad situation, which was running into the screen in the third story. Both stories use evoking the deity to express times of trouble that cannot be controlled.
In these three stories similar patterns occur regardless of topic. Conversation analysis is used to “find the machinery” or find the common patterns in interaction across all conversations by examining single events (Sacks, 1984, p.26). Across these specific stories: The dog is humanized to show strong emotions. Laughter is used to show there is humor in situations. Oh is used either to demonstrate the receiving of new information or to show excitement. Evoking the deity is always used in times of trouble that cannot be controlled. It is easy to see common patterns that happen in all interactions through examining these specific stories.
The details across these three stories are given with regards to “being ordinary”. Sack’s (1984) article states when people tell stories they report “the usual aspects of any possibly usual scene” (p. 416). This is consistent throughout these three stories and provides proof this happens across all conversations.
Importance, Coping, Insights
Stories are important in everyday conversation because they provide the speaker a way to organize past events to reiterate to the receiver. Receivers would get bored and not be able to listen to storytellers if it were not for the precise structure of stories. I know in my life, when I tell stories without following the exact structure I lose my listener. I in turn am one of the worst listeners I know and if someone goes off the structure I will be zoned out in a matter of seconds.
The family examined in these stories uses the dogs to cope with the mother’s cancer. There are a lot of funny stories, which helps them to forget about the mother’s cancer for a moment and laugh. I have never experienced someone close to me having cancer, but working with the cancer project this past year has made me realize just how serious and sad cancer can be. This family needs to laugh as much as they can throughout this cancer process to keep their sanity. I think I would go into a deep depression if all I ever thought about was my mother dying of cancer. These dog stories are essential to give the family a sense of hope during this very sad and rough time in their lives.
I did not understand the primary focus of conversation analysis when I wrote my first paper. Then, in class a few weeks ago I was told conversation analysis is the study of patterns “regardless of topic” and suddenly I understood. Writing this paper was much easier for me because I was not trying to find the symbolism behind what the father and son were saying. I could simply focus on the social interactions that were occurring and explain them for what they are and not what they could be. Havey Sack’s quote really pulled it together for me where it says, “Thus it is not any particular conversation, as an object, that we are primarily interested in… We are trying to find the machinery” (Sacks, 1984, p.26). Conversation analysis is about taking specific communicative interactions and finding patterns to generalize them across all communicative interactions. I get it now!
Beach, W. A. (2007). A natural history of family cancer: Interactional resources for managing illness. San Diego: Montezuma Publishing.
Goodwin, M. H. (1990). Perspectives on stories [Electronic version]. He said she said: Talk as social organization among black children, 229-238.
Jefferson, G. (1978). Sequential aspects of storytelling in conversation [Electronic version]. Studies in organization of conversational interaction, 219-247.
Sacks, H. (1984). Notes on methodology. In John Heritage & J. Maxwell Atkinson [Electronic version]. Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis, 21-27.
Sacks, H. (1984). On doing being ordinary [Electronic version]. Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis, 413-429.