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


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The boy walks out of the prison with a heavy heart. He had wanted to cheer his father up; instead he has distressed him. The boy also knows that his mother will be upset if he tells her what has happened; therefore, he decides not to tell her anything about the cake. The boy walks home in darkness, physically and emotionally; the dark of the night is paralleled in his sad heart

When the boy reaches home, it is late. Although his siblings are already asleep, his mother is awake and waiting for his return. By choosing his words carefully, the boy tells his mother about his visit, consciously leaving out all information that would upset her. He says that Father will be sending messages to them through the visiting preacher. The mother is silent and pensive for a while; she then resumes her work and softly sings the song, “The Lonesome Valley.”

Much to the boy’s surprise, Sounder returns the next morning; but he is a changed animal. The mighty coonhound has been reduced to a listless, lame, and partially blind ghost of his former self. Since it is difficult for him to move, the dog lies on the cabin porch all day, constantly watching for the return of his master. Even Sounder’s thunderous bark is now a pitiful whimper.

As the days pass, the family wonders what has happened to Father and eagerly waits for information. Finally, they learn that he has been sent out for hard labor; since he is such a good worker, the family is hopeful that he will be released quickly due to hard work and good behavior.


Again in this chapter the kindness, humanity, and morality of the blacks is a stark contrast to the cruelty of the whites. The father has told his son not to return to the jail, for he wants to protect him and spare him from the pain inflicted by the whites. Now as the boy walks towards home, he wants to protect his mother and spare her from pain; he decides he will not tell her about how he was treated by the white employees at the jail or what has happened to her cake. The boy is beginning to truly mature as he learns the full meaning of suffering.

Mother again shows that she is just as kind and thoughtful as Father. She patiently waits up for her son, eager to hear about her husband. She carefully listens to the boy’s every word, not interrupting with lots of questions. When the boy is through with his tale, she silently and pensively ponders what he has said. She then returns to her work, humming the same song about the lonesome valley; this often repeated melody reinforces one of the central themes of the novel: a person must find personal courage in the face of hardships in order to endure the lonesome valley of life. Mother seems to gain courage by humming this melancholy tune alone and to herself.

Sounder’s return is structurally and thematically a perfectly timed and important event in the novel. It occurs at a low point for the boy, after he has just again suffered the inhumanity inflicted by the white man. The dog’s return is a hopeful sign that the master will also return; but Sounder’s condition foreshadows the future condition in which Father will return. Both dog and master now have broken spirits and broken bodies; both are mere ghosts of the being that they were previously.

Thematically, Sounder’s return underlines the courage and “dogged determination” that is needed to endure the lonely valley of life. Man’s inhumanity in the form of a bullet has caused the dog great pain; by himself, Sounder went into the woods of life to literally lick his wounds and heal himself. Although he has managed to live in spite of the odds and return home in faithfulness, he is not the same mighty hound seen in the beginning of the novel. His strong voice, the sounder of human values, has been replaced with a pitiful whine; but he can still be heard. Life is cruel and can reduce even the strongest creatures; but the truly mighty will survive.

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