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Sounder

William Armstrong

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Why does the boy's father ask him never to visit him in jail again?

The reason for his father's request is multifold. First of all, it saddens the father to see his son—it is awkward and forced, they have no privacy, and it underscores how very limited their relationship with one another has become. Second, the father knows that the situation is difficult for his son. He knows that the boy is trying to be brave but that it is very difficult for the boy to do so. He knows that the boy misses him and that seeing him in jail makes the pain more acute. Third, there is an element of humility in the boy seeing his father locked up, with no privacy, no freedom and at the mercy of people such as the mean jail guard. The father undoubtedly does not want his son seeing him like that, especially since no one in jail can be a real father or a real role model. Fourth, he knows that he will not be in jail after he is convicted and is not sure what his fate will be after that. He does not want to be asked questions he cannot answer and does not want to be in the position to make promises he might not be able to keep. The boy's father wants the boy and the rest of the family to remember him as he was before he got arrested, not the way he is after.

Why does the boy continue to search for his father?

He searches out of loyalty—because not searching suggests having given up or a lack of desire to find his father. He also searches because it is the only thing he can do. The situation with his father is out of his control, but the only way he can affect the situation at all is to try and find his father working with the convicts. The boy also searches to give himself something to do, an activity that cuts away at the loneliness, fear, and helplessness he feels. The search itself takes over a special role in the boy's life—it is almost like a job. The boy never contemplates what he would do if he actually found his father; he would not be able to bring his father home and probably would not even be able to say anything to his father. But the search itself is active, which is better than staying at the cabin, waiting. The search is also symbolic, and there are frequent references to searches in the Bible. The boy points out that most characters in the Bible engage in nearly impossible searches, but that even though they might go to the far corners of the earth, they almost always find what they are looking for.

Why is the boy so intent on learning to read?

The boy wants to learn to read in order to prevent the loneliness that bothers him so much. He thinks that if he learns to read, he will have a constant companion in books and characters. He also wants to read because he wants a life different from the one he is currently living, and different from the lives of his parents. He does not want to have to steal to eat, and he does not want to have to be so poor that he is at the mercy of luck and the weather and the rich folks in town. He wants to better himself and make a name for himself and his family. This is something that no one in his family knows how to do—it is something he can have and do for himself. The boy also wants to learn how to read in order to have a closer connection to the Bible and to the stories that provide him so much strength and guidance.

How would you characterize the boy's childhood?

What could have been Armstrong's intentions in having both Sounder and the boy's father return with similar injuries?

What role does the Bible play in the book?

What is Armstrong suggesting about literacy?

Why is the boy at peace with the deaths of his father and Sounder?

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