Like Father Like Dog
William H. Armstrong?s novel, Sounder, depicts the life of a poor black family and their dog around the turn of the twentieth century. The family of five consists of the mother, father, two sons, one daughter, and last but not least their dog Sounder. The family relies on sharecropping in the summer and hunting in the winter for their food supply. One extremely frigid and windy winter, the hunting is so poor that the father resorts to stealing a ham to keep his family fed. As a result of his decision to steal, the sheriff comes and arrests the father and Sounder is brutally shot. This sets up the rest of the story in which the author creates many parallels between Sounder and the father such as: their mental strengths, physical strengths, and almost identical injuries.
Through out the story Armstrong uses bravery, courage, and heroism as characteristics of both Sounder and the father alike. The harsh factors they face in every day life make them mentally strong. The father hunts night after night to supply food for his family. When things do not go well with the hunting he has to resort to stealing. Not because he is a criminal, but rather because he has a family to support. When his punishment comes he takes it like a man and goes off to prison. Sounder demonstrates his own courage by taking a shotgun blast to the face while trying to prevent his master from being taken away to prison. Wounded and approaching death, Sounder treks off into the wooded marsh to heal himself with the acid from the oak-tree leaves. The heroic actions of both the father and Sounder perfectly demonstrate the strength they possess to carry on in a life of hardship, day after day.
Armstrong utilizes the boy?s thoughts to exemplify not only the mental strength of the father and Sounder, but their physical strength as well. The boy describes Sounder as having ?great square jaws and head, a muscular neck and broad chest that showed his bulldog blood?(4). When an animal was shaken from a tree ?Sounder would clamp and set his jaw-vise just behind the animals head. Then would spread his front paws, lock his shoulder joints, and let the bulging neck muscles fly from left to right?(4). The boy admired the pure power of his beloved dog Sounder. He made reference to the strength of his father as well, yet in more subtle ways. One morning in the cabin ?the boy felt warm and proud inside when he saw his father?s great hand take hold of the handle of the hot lid without using a pot rag the way his mother always did?(15). Another distinct example would be how the boy believed his father might be released from prison early; for he had always heard his father could do the work of two men in one day. Ultimately the most descriptive thought the boy had of his father occurred while he was searching for him at a prison camp. The boy was leaning against a gate glancing at the inmates when suddenly his hand was crushed by a piece of metal swung by a prison guard. The boy slowly walks away realizing that his father must not be at that prison camp because if his father had seen him get struck ?he would be holding the scarecrow of a man in the air with one hand clamped all the way around the white strip on the skinny neck, the way he had seen Sounder clamp his great jaws on a weasel once, with the head stuck out one side of the jaws and the body the other?(89). The boys detailed thoughts concerning the strength of his father and Sounder help to reassure himself that they will survive no matter what the circumstances are against them.
The novel ends with the long awaited return home of both Sounder and the father. The ending is not completely joyous on the account both return home with similar injuries and afflictions. Sounder voyages home able to walk on only three legs. One side of the head and shoulder of the once ferocious dog was ?reddish brown and hairless; the acid of the oak leaves had tanned the surface of the wound the color of leather. The stub of an ear stuck out on one side, and there was no eye on that side, only a dark socket with a splinter of a bone showing above it?(72-73). The father returns home in no better shape than Sounder. As a result of a mining accident the father?s head ?was pulled to the side where a limp arm dangled and where the foot pointed outward as it was dragged through the dust. What had been a shoulder was now pushed up and back to make a one-sided hump??(108). Their mutual return home and the resembling injuries the two received are two more similarities that Armstrong utilizes to display the parallel between the two characters.
Throughout the story it is easy to understand the resemblance between Sounder and the father; both of them are strong mentally and physically, and contain a driving ambition to succeed in doing what is best for the family. They share a mutual goal of staying alive through out their hardships so that they may return home to their loving family. After they reunite with the family, the father and Sounder both understand that with their crippled bodies they are a hassle to them all. Out of their love for the family, they end their long dual with the grip reaper and face death. They each do what they believe will best suit the family. Every description you can come up with for one of the characters ideally suits the other. Throughout the entire novel Sounder, Armstrong uses similar vivid descriptions of the characteristics of Sounder and the father to create many parallels greatly relating the two.