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Sounder

William Armstrong

Chapters 7–8

Chapters 5–6

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 7

When the boy comes home from looking for his father, Sounder meets him in the road. Still, Sounder never barks. They hear about an accident involving a dynamite blast in a quarry where some convicts are working, but the boy's father is not one of the dead or injured. The boy's search for his father takes many years, and even though his mother tells him she wishes he wouldn't go looking, she always wraps him a sandwich for the journey. One day the boy sees a group of convicts whitewashing rocks. The boy stands against a fence, watching, but one of the guards smashes the boy's fingers with a crowbar. The guard laughs, but the boy refuses to move. The guard yells at him and starts throwing scraps of iron at him. It reminds the boy of David and Goliath and the stone that hit Goliath in the forehead.

On the way home, the boy sees a man dumping books into the trash. He picks it up and reads a story called "Cruelty." The boy reads aloud, thrilled to have his first book. Still walking, he passes a school, sees a cistern, and goes to wash the blood out of his hands. The bell rings and school is over for the day, and the children all burst outside. They see him and begin asking questions. One of the teachers, an older man, comes outside and helps the boy wash his fingers. The teacher invites the boy to his house, and they begin talking about the teacher's plants. Then the teacher tells the boy about the book the boy found in the trash. The teacher heats some water and asks the boy to talk about himself. The boy tells the teacher about his father and Sounder.

Chapter 8

When the boy returns home, his mother asks him who took care of his hand. She asks lots of questions—how he hurt his hand, whether he found his father, who helped him, and what book it is that he carries under his arm. The boy sits his mother down to talk to her, and she asks him how badly his father is doing. The boy tells her that he has not found his father and, instead, tells her about meeting the teacher. He describes the teacher's cabin, and they are all impressed with the amenities there. The boy finally tells her that the teacher wants him to stay there and learn to read, and he tells his mother that the teacher will come talk to her to persuade her if she resists. He says that he'll come home as often as possible to visit, and he might even bring word of his father sometime.

The boy spends falls and winters with the teacher and summers taking his father's place working in the field. Sounder always meets him when he comes home to visit. When the boy returns, he reads to his family. One hot day, the boy returns from the fields early—it is too hot to work. He and Sounder are sitting in the cabin when they see a speck coming over the horizon. Sounder begins to whine from under the porch. Sounder gets more and more agitated, and they realize that Sounder's master has come home. He is wounded, dragging a dead leg behind him. One side of his face and body is lifeless. The boy's father tells them how he was nearly killed in a dynamite blast, but had resolved not to die because he had to come home. They let him go because he was too injured for hard labor. Sounder and his master walk and sit together, both of them half gone.

The boy returns to his teacher's cabin in the fall. One day the boy's father takes Sounder out hunting, and Sounder returns to the cabin some time later. The boy follows Sounder, figuring that his father got too tired to walk back or perhaps had fallen. When he reaches his father, he shakes him and tries to wake him but soon realizes that his father is dead. A few days later, the boy returns to school. He tells his mother that now that Sounder's master is dead, Sounder will not have much of a will to live. A few months later, Sounder crawls under the cabin and dies.

Analysis

The boy's chance encounter with the teacher seems too good to be luck or coincidence—it is divine intervention. He meets someone kind and someone who can teach him to read. The teacher fills the role of savior and role model in the boy's life, and he is the first person since the boy's father who has served to teach and guide him. When the teacher asks the boy to talk about himself, the boy immediately launches into the story of his father and Sounder—a story that the teacher responds to kindly and with a sense of responsibility. When the boy tells his mother about the teacher's offer, she says, "It's a sign; I believes him signs … Go child. The Lord has come to you."

The boy grows up with the teacher, learning to read in the colder months and working the field in the summer. This is the first dynamic segment of the book—it is the first time that one of the character's station in life has changed. The boy is improved; he is different, and he now has a greater destiny. It is ironic that this is the point in the book in which the anticipated homecoming finally occurs. The boy has ceased searching for his father—the fact that during one of those searches he stumbled upon the teacher recalls the earlier statement about people always finding that for which they they are looking. In his case, he did not find his father, but he found something else he was looking for: a teacher and an opportunity.

Much like Sounder, the boy's father comes home crippled. And like Sounder as well, when he was injured the odds were that he would die, but he has defied those odds. And still like Sounder, all that the boy's father wanted to do was come home. Even though both the father and Sounder die at the end of the book, the last few passages are the most uplifting in the entire text. There is a sense of peace in the death of the father and the dog, and the boy is wise enough to know it. He remembers something he read with the teacher, "Only the unwise think that what has changed is dead." Much has changed, but nothing has really died. He knows that the spirits of his father and dog are alive in all of them and in the land. He knows they are all changed for the better as a result of the devastation. And, despite the tragedy of his father's arrest and captivity, the boy may never have found the teacher had those events not unfolded in the manner they did. The sense of peace at the end of the book comes from the belief that what happens in life is the God's doing, and, while his designs might sometimes be mysterious, they are something in which everyone can have faith and something that, in time, everyone will understand.

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