This thesis attempts to answer the questions "What purposes do family pets and the narratives we tell about them serve in modern American society?" and "What do these stories tell us about what Americans value and about where we locate our ‘value center’?" In Chapter 1, I discuss how Americans define loyalty in our pets now that our animals generally no longer help us work. I conclude that since the shift from agricultural to suburban settings, animals prove their loyalty individually and in human-like ways, rather than as "good" members of their own species, but at the same time because of their "animalness" they also provide us with a small but critical connection to nature. In Chapter 2, I explore how Americans experience spirituality or a "sixth sense" through our pets, especially our cats. These narratives show that many Americans are somehow able to hold diametrically opposed folk beliefs about exactly the same animal: while personal family stories about cats are almost uniformly positive and feature an angelic cat hero,impersonal folktales and legends still persistently characterize cats as evil and demonic. In Chapter 3, I look at how we work out our very American obsession with bigness through telling stories about our dogs. These stories allow us opportunities to talk about the socially inappropriate issue of male body size expectations, by celebrating big dogs and "under"dogs and by ridiculing those with "little dog complex."



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





folklore, pet, dog, cat, value center