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Sounder

William Armstrong

Chapters 5–6

Chapters 3–4

Chapters 7–8

Summary

Chapter 5

The trip to the jail is suddenly over. When the boy is outside, he remembers that he was looking forward to seeing his father and bringing him the cake. He remembers his resolve not to "grieve" his father. The boy wonders what he is going to say to his mother; he does not want to tell her what the guard did to her cake. He is afraid she will think that he has grieved his father when he tells her not to send him back. When he gets home, his mother asks if he got there all right and whether it is warm in jail. He asks her whether Sounder has come home, and, when she says no, he starts to get the lantern to go looking. His mother tells him to eat first, and he finally tells her that his father directed him not to visit anymore. She does not say anything. That night he dreams that someone has come to teach him to read.

The next morning he awakens to the sound of his mother singing. The boy thinks he hears a faint whine and goes running to the door. Sounder, skinny and only using three legs, is there standing on the porch. He looks roughed up, has no ear or eye on one side of his head, and his shoulder is scarred and scabbed. The boy thinks Sounder is looking for his father. Eventually the boy gets used to the way Sounder looks but notices that Sounder refuses to bark. One night a few months later his mother receives word that his father's case has gone to court and that his father has been transferred to hard labor. She does not know where he will be working, except that it is not outside of the state. She also does not know when he will be coming home.

Chapter 6

Even Sounder is lonely in the cabin now, looking out the door with his one eye. The boy goes to work in the fields but soon grows restless. He wants to go looking for his father. His mother does not want him to go, but he points out that in the Bible, many people go on journeys. "And in Bible-story journeys, ain't no journey hopeless. Everybody finds what they suppose to find." The boy knows that the state moves the men assigned to hard labor from camp to camp. He has seen people in striped suits go riding by in wagons, so he has an idea for what to look. He begins searching for his father, walking the roads and looking for men working. The search is unsuccessful, but he ends up picking up newspapers and magazines to practice his reading. The boy continues to practice reading and trying to teach himself new, bigger words. The stories in the papers are discouraging, he learns, and "the ends never came out right, and they made him more afraid." He recalls how his mother would tell him stories from the Bible, mostly about Joseph and David. The story about David hearing the wind through the cedar trees and knowing that God was on his side is especially salient for the boy, and he remembers it every time he goes looking for his father. "The boy listened to the wind. He could hear the mighty roaring. He thought he heard the voice of David and the tamping of many feet. He wasn't afraid with David near."

Analysis

Sounder's return is surprisingly anticlimactic. Perhaps it is because he is so badly mangled, or perhaps it further illuminates the boy's father's absence because only one of them is home and because Sounder visibly misses his master. Sounder is not the same dog in many respects, especially without his bark. Even though he has a name, he is in a sense being stripped of it. He was named after his bark and the enormous sound it made ringing across the valley. Without that bark, his name and his identity are misplaced.

Time passes, but little changes. They are all lonely and life is still difficult. The boy begins working, but instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, he only feels restless. By now, the boy is no longer really a boy, but the way Armstrong refers to him does not change. The anonymity is still present, but now even the generic name, "the boy," is a misnomer. There is some irony in that, most apparent in the sentences, "The boy did not remember his age. He knew he had lived a long, long time." Right away Armstrong establishes the contradiction between a boy and someone who has lived a "long, long time." Armstrong suggests that the boy's childhood has been stripped away and is now lost and gone.

The biblical references in Chapter 6 are particularly strong. The boy seeks solace in the stories because there is little else to seek comfort in. He juxtaposes the stories in the Bible that "always ended with the right thing happening" with the stories in the papers he reads that "never came out right." The boy learns the harsh distinction between the stories he reads in the Bible and the stories that take place around him. It seems that in some ways, God and the characters in the Bible fill the void left by the boy's father. The stories involve people who are role models and older men. They serve as examples and as motivation for the boy, providing him with a sense of hope. The hope is not a tangible one, but a faith that eventually good will overcome evil and that the hard aspects of life will become easier.

Chapters 5 and 6 do not much serve to move the plot forward, except to accentuate the passage of time and to show how little things have changed in the cabin. The return of Sounder is less joyous than the boy or his mother might have anticipated because little changes; Sounder's return just signals one more being in the house who misses father, wishing he were home. Sounder is also a painful reminder of what happened to the boy's father and where he is. Armstrong also uses Sounder as a foreshadowing device; he comes home, but he comes home changed for the worse and missing something that once defined him.

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