On Cate Kennedy’s “A Pitch Too High for the Human Ear”

“A Pitch Too High for the Human Ear,” the second story from Cate Kennedy’s “Dark Roots” anthology, follows the bland, routine-centric life of a seemingly archetypal ‘family man’: Andrew, the narrator. Andrew, despite his docile façade, finds family life unfulfilling, not to mention grinding. His wife, Vicki, gossips about him, never not finding a flaw in his persona, incessantly nagging for him to let go of his nostalgia for his glory days of yesteryear. She requires for him to give into the rhythm of repetitive routine. His only means of figuratively chasing after his pre-family self thus are his long, late-night running sessions, accompanied by his dog, Kelly. That is, until Kelly loses his sense of hearing. For reasons not explicitly stated to the reader, Andrew decides to put Kelly down, and is further alienated from his family as a result. 

“A Pitch Too High for the Human Ear” is a study on dehumanisation. The contrast between the secondary characters of Vicki and Kelly, and the way in which each affect Andrew, only serves to highlight this. Andrew likens his wife to a “black cloud”, implying that he sees her as a stress, a pressure, a force of negativity constantly oppressing him, raining on his parade of nostalgia. Kelly, however, doggedly follows along with Andrew; more a cheerleader, and less a pessimist, the complete opposite to Vicki. Vicki utterly thrives on putting Andrew down, accusing him of having “just so many unresolved issues” and thus stripping him of his achievements, which, as evidenced by such reminiscences as “Cougars – B grade, scored 174 baskets one season,” he takes great pride in. Ergo, he feels that her criticisms are personal attacks against his existence. In response, Andrew begins to devote less attention to Vicki; he likens their relationship to that of “two strangers on the bus”. Whereas, “Kelly [is] beautiful”, and subsequently becomes the focus of his attentions and love. The fact that he thinks more highly of his dog than his wife suggests that he no longer views her as human. That she is, in his eyes, more deplorable than an animal. Not to mention that, through Kelly, Andrew regains some sense of self-worth and power: it takes only one whistle to command the dog. Hence, when Kelly can one day no longer hear him, Andrew feels possibly more unstable than ever before. Andrew, so disillusioned by his complete and utter loss of power, decides to take the dog’s fate into his own hands, perversely allowing him one final moment of authority over another living being. 

It is possible to read this story through the feminist lens, considering this dichotomy between the dog and the wife, as seen through the eyes of the male protagonist, Andrew. Andrew, through his narration, makes no secret of his tire of routine-based life, yet he also notes the toll it takes on his wife. Vicki is constantly shown slaving over housework. Andrew silently observes her “wiping the back of her hand against her eyes” as she finishes preparing the week’s lunches; such quiet attention to detail possibly implies that he is concerned that chores have entirely absorbed and eradicated her personality. Through this, Kennedy seems to suggest that, when women are grounded to household work, they lose a vital part of themselves. Thus, this story can be read as a criticism of the housewife archetype, and therefore supportive of the feminism movement.


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