The Art of Racing in the Rain


Garth Stein

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What It Means to Be Human Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
What It Means to Be Human Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Illness and Death Theme Icon
Destiny and Spirituality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Art of Racing in the Rain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
What It Means to Be Human Theme Icon

The events of The Art of Racing in the Rain are relayed to the reader by Enzo, a dog who tries his hardest to be as humanlike as possible. Through his non-human perceptions of the people and events taking place around him, we're asked to consider what it truly means to be human, and what the limits of being human might be.

Enzo has a unique view on humanity, since he himself isn't human. By hearing the story from a non-human narrator, the reader is provided some distance from what they know of humanity to consider what it looks like from another perspective. First and foremost, the reader must question the truth of the story—does Enzo truly understand what's going on, since he's a dog? The reader knows, for example, that Enzo actually destroyed Zoë's toys, rather than the fantastical story that Enzo told and seems to truly believe. On the other hand, though, does Enzo understand more than a human could, since he's not human? Enzo is afforded a certain amount of privilege as a dog, as many people don't censor themselves around him and instead speak freely. Enzo learns a great deal about how Zoë forms an understanding of Eve's death by watching how she plays in the weeks leading up to it. Finally, as the reader is human, it's possible that he or she may grasp more of the true meaning or implication of the events in the book. The reader will likely understand that Denny and Eve try to conceive a second baby before Eve is hospitalized, but the “turkey baster” joke is completely lost on Enzo.

The text pays particular attention to the physicality of humans, and the physical attributes that make them human. Enzo believes that the most important difference between himself and people is that he lacks opposable thumbs and a tongue capable of forming speech. While he takes great care to try and think in what he believes is a more human way, Enzo's non-human conception of what it means to be human is tied directly to these physical attributes—which, moreover, are often discussed in terms of power. Enzo doesn't have the power to speak to people or open doors, as he's just a "dumb dog," but the people around him exert their power through the acts their bodies are capable of performing, whether that be speech, sexual advances, or even holding Enzo's leash.

Enzo sees human beings as being the top of the evolutionary pyramid, and he dreams of becoming a human after his life as a dog is over. However, despite Enzo's idolization of the idea of humanity and evidence of humans as good and righteous, humanity is also shown to be evil and selfish. The man who bred Enzo, for example, is described as pure evil, someone who only wants money and will go to any length to get it. We see the true extent of this evil when he refuses to pay for local anesthetic for Enzo's dewclaw removal as a puppy. With this act, the alpha man not only deprives Enzo of a physiological connection to man (as Enzo believes the dewclaw is a pre-emergent thumb), he makes it a painful, traumatizing experience. The people in opposition to Denny are also described in terms of evil: Annika is a vixen and a temptress, and at their worst Trish and Maxwell are conniving, nitrogenous life forms, out to ruin Denny and take away Zoë. While Enzo does come to the realization that good and evil are not purely black and white opposites, his understanding remains somewhat rudimentary. He finally accepts that Annika is young and not truly evil, but he doesn't understand that Maxwell and Trish are motivated primarily by familial love for their granddaughter and a desire to do right by her—exactly the same motivation as Denny, but with a completely opposite final outcome.

Overall, the text presents a wide cross section of humans and a wide variety of human events and emotions to the reader, related through the lens of a narrator who is not human. The distance provided by the non-human narration allows the reader to consider if humans are truly as good or as evil as Enzo sees them to be, and to consider where their power lies.

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What It Means to Be Human Quotes in The Art of Racing in the Rain

Below you will find the important quotes in The Art of Racing in the Rain related to the theme of What It Means to Be Human.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

After the 1993 Grand Prix, the best thing I've ever seen on TV is a documentary that explained everything to me, made it all clear, told the whole truth: when a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Television, Ayrton Senna
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

And while I greatly resented the attention Eve lavished on her unborn baby, in retrospect, I realize I had never given her a reason to lavish that same attention on me.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Eve, Zoë
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

What Eve said was not out of line, as most dogs cannot help themselves... but that sort of thing doesn't apply to me.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Denny, Eve, Zoë
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

But I hadn't a facile tongue. So all I could do was watch and feel empty inside; Eve had assigned me to protect Zoë no matter what, but no one had been assigned to protect Eve. And there was nothing I could do to help her.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Eve, Zoë
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

"Sometimes I think you actually understand me," he said. "It's like there's a person inside there. Like you know everything."

I do, I said to myself. I do.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Denny (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Demon. Gremlin. Poltergeist. Ghost. Phantom. Spirit. Shadow. Ghoul. Devil. People are afraid of them so they relegate their existence to stories, volumes of books that can be closed and put on the shelf or left behind at a bed and breakfast; they clench their eyes shut so they will see no evil. But trust me when I tell you that the zebra is real. Somewhere, the zebra is dancing.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zoë's Zebra, the Demon
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

She rarely called me by my name. They do that in prisoner of war camps, I've heard. Depersonalization.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Trish (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.
I am ready.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Television
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is comprised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

I marveled at them both; how difficult it must be to be a person. To constantly subvert your desires. To worry about doing the right thing, rather than doing what is most expedient.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Denny, Zoë
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

I needed to feel myself, understand myself and this horrible world we are all trapped in, where bugs and tumors and viruses worm their way into our brains and lay their putrid eggs that hatch and eat us alive from the inside out.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Eve
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

I didn't care for the sensation, yet I realized it was possibly a natural progression of my evolving soul, and therefore I tried my best to embrace it.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Denny
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 37 Quotes

I thought of Eve and how quickly she embraced her death once the people around her agreed to it; I considered the foretelling of my own end, which was to be full of suffering and pain, as death is believed to be by most of the world, and I tried to look away.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker), Eve
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 56 Quotes

But sometimes the truth is hidden in a hall of mirrors. Sometimes we believe we are viewing the real thing, when in fact we are viewing a facsimile, a distortion. As I listen to this trial, I am reminded of the climactic scene of a James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun. James Bond escaped his hall of mirrors by breaking the glass, shattering the illusions, until only the true villain stood before him. We, too, must shatter the mirrors. We must look into ourselves and root out the distortions until that thing which we know in our hearts is perfect and true, stands before us. Only then will justice be served.

Related Characters: Enzo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Television
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis: