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Sounder by W. H. Armstrong - Free Online Book Summary


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For breakfast the next morning, there are only biscuits and milk. After everyone is through eating, Mother announces that she must go to the store. Giving him specific instructions, she tells her oldest son that he must watch after his younger siblings in her absence. As the boy sadly watches his mother depart, he hears her humming a melancholy tune. The song makes him feel gloomy; he is filled with apprehension and all kinds of disturbing thoughts about his father.

After a while, the boy goes out to look for Sounder’s body, for he wants to give the dog a proper burial. He crawls under the cabin and wanders through the woods, searching for the animal; but there is not a trace of the dog anywhere. Feeling hopeless, the boy’s courage craters, and he begins to cry copiously over his losses.


The boy’s maturation process begins to take shape in this chapter. First, Mother insists that he wear the father’s old-patched overalls, symbolizing that she is passing the responsibility of the family to him. Then she makes it clear that he is mature enough to watch out for his younger siblings while she goes in to town to shop; the boy takes the task very seriously and does a good job. The boy also begins to mimic his father’s habit of speaking aloud to himself.

The boy’s sensitivity and love for Sounder are again seen in this chapter. Lonely and desolate without the dog, he again goes out to look for him, expecting to find his lifeless body. He is concerned about giving his pet a proper burial. Although he searches everywhere, Sounder is not to be found, making him feel more miserable than ever. He remarks out loud, “No sun to thaw things out today.” Although he is literally speaking of the weather, he is also talking about the frozen state of his heart. Without his father or his dog, there is nothing to warm his life or bring him happiness. With the weight of the world upon his shoulders, the boy can stand no more. He cries copious tears; consciously they are for his lost father and dog; subconsciously they are for the premature loss of his own youth.

The overall sense of alienation felt by the blacks is voiced in the boy’s fear of “curtained houses,” places where the white people live. The curtains become symbolic. First they represent white luxury, for blacks cannot afford to cover their windows with fancy cloth. Next they serve as a barrier, protecting the sacred privacy of the white people and preventing the whites from having to look at the misery and poverty of the blacks. Ironically, the child has no fear when he sees the rough, dilapidated cabins along the way; to him, the windows there are “just faces and real eyes.”

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