I'm studying EN251 (Introduction to Literature), and I was given an assignment to choose one short story and study it. I have read "A Dark Brown Dog" by Stephen Crane. I still wonder what's the...

I'm studying EN251 (Introduction to Literature), and I was given an assignment to choose one short story and study it. I have read "A Dark Brown Dog" by Stephen Crane. I still wonder what's the theme of the story, and is there any symbol from this short story?"

Thank you very much

JOB from Thailand

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Much criticism has been given over Stephen Crane's "A Dark Brown Dog." While some readers tend to interpret it superficially (being simply about a boy and his dog), others scrutinize it much deeper. Please remember that each reader interprets stories based upon his or her own experiences and thought. (While the following provides my own multiple interpretations, you may find something within the text which leans to something very different.)

Religious Interpretation

One interpretation of the story is that it contains religious themes. The dog represents a Jesus-figure. This comes about given that each time the boy beats the dog, the dog flips to its back and prays. While doing so, the dog "held his paws in a peculiar manner." (The use of "his" here is notable. The pronoun "it" typically identifies an animal, not he. He names a human being.) The religious theme continues as the dog is beaten again and again, offering his undying love time after time. It is not until the dog is thrown out of the window by the drunken father that the boy comes to understand what the dog really meant to him (illustrating the death of Jesus and the people who came to him after his crucifixion). The theme, in this interpretation, is undying love and forgiveness.

Slavery and Jim Crow

Another interpretation of the story could align with the division between blacks and whites. The dog represents the newly emancipated blacks. The family represents Southern whites (outside of the mother who represents Northern whites). The story illustrates the period of Jim Crow laws ("separate but equal"). Therefore, the story shows how the whites (the boy) and the blacks (the dog) must first get to know each other (represented by the hesitant and apologetic manner the dog approaches the boy with). Another symbol supporting this interpretation is the rope dragging from the dog's neck. Once the boy and dog get home, the family argues about the dog living with them. The father eventually says the dog can stay.

The boy grows to care greatly for the dog and even protects him from his father's abuse. Sometimes though the boy hits the dog as well. In the end, the father gets drunk and throws the dog out of a window (five stories up). This represents the lynching of blacks. Crane's tale even has multiple whites watching the "lynching" take place. The boy runs down the stairs and sits by the dog (symbolizing the lack of power those who desired change). The theme, therefore, is recognition. By recognizing the horrible past for African Americans, one can insure that times like those never return. It is a part of history utilized to educate.

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user4745497 | eNotes Newbie

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Thank you so much for the guideline answer. I have read many times agian and start to make my own interpretation.

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