What is the importance and background of this quote in "Sounder"?"But you must learn to lose, son".

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is the boy's mother who says these words to her son when he comes back to the cabin, having been unable to find Sounder. She says,

"Sounder might come home again.  But you must learn to lose, child.  The Lord teaches the old to lose.  The young don't know how to learn it.  Some people is born to keep.  Some is born to lose.  We was born to lose, I reckon.  But Sounder might come back" (Chapter 4).

When she says "you must learn to lose", the mother means that the boy must learn to accept when things do not go the way he wants.  In an immediate sense, she is telling him that he may or may not find Sounder, but whether he does or not, he must endure, either way.  In a larger sense, the mother is talking about the reality of their lives as poor black sharecroppers in the Southern United States in the later 1800s or early 1900s.  Struggling to eke a meager living off the land, families like the boy's are in an impossible situation, victimized by prejudice, poverty, and ignorance.  Oppressed by laws that keep them down because of the color of their skin and unable secure even the basics for existence, they live life day to day, just struggling to stay above water.  The older ones have learned to suppress their longings for a better life in this world and in their powerlessness simply do the only thing they can do - accept life as it comes.  It is this lesson that the mother tells her son he must learn.

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