05 February 2013

Parsing the Class Status of Toto and Duke

Dorothy and Toto made a curious cameo appearance in The New Yorker dated 4 February. In a review of books about Richard Nixon, Thomas Mallon judges Kevin Mattson to be looking too hard for reasons to criticize that President in a study of the Checkers speech titled Just Plain Dick. Specifically:

When it comes to Checkers himself, Mattson makes a pronouncement as startling as its grammar is shaky:
By 1952, owning a dog constituted a democratic rite of passage, no longer the exclusive possession of America’s wealthy aristocrats, who were known to prance around with their purebreds in places like the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Who knew that, decades earlier, Penrod and Dorothy Gale had been putting on such airs when they took Duke and Toto out for a walk down the small-town lanes of Indiana and Kansas?
In fact, there is a whiff of aristocracy in naming a dog Toto, as I documented back here—but by 1900 that name was verging on cliché.

Similarly, the name Duke obviously has aristocratic roots, but there’s nothing fancy about Penrod Schofield and even less about Duke:
The dog’s name was undescriptive of his person, which was obviously the result of a singular series of mesalliances. He wore a grizzled moustache and indefinite whiskers; he was small and shabby, and looked like an old postman.
Now that is some fine canine characterization.

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