What symbols convey theme in “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun”?  

The symbol of the big grey dog in “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” could convey themes linked to haunting, death, or nature.

Expert Answers

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One symbol to think about in Alistair MacLeod’s short story “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” is the big grey dog. Consider how the dog symbolizes haunting and conveys the ghostly theme of the story. Near the end of the story, the narrator describes the dog as a “spectre”—another word for ghost or spirit. The narrator notes that generations of family members saw the dog as they faced death. Even though the big grey dog has supposedly died a long time ago, it still hangs around the family. Again, it’s phantom-like presence can be interpreted as haunting, which conveys the theme that the narrator’s family is indelibly bedeviled.

Of course, the big grey dog could symbolize something else and thus convey a different theme from the story. Perhaps the big grey dog symbolizes death. The dog’s omnipresence connects to the theme of mortality. The family can’t escape the spectre of the dog, just as they can’t avoid death. To argue that the dog symbolizes death and conveys the theme of dying, think about how the dog kills the narrator’s great-great-great grandfather. Consider how other generations of family members have been known to spot the dog as they are about to pass away.

Lastly, think about how the dog might symbolize nature. Here, the dog would play into the theme that nature is ultimately unpredictable. At the start of the story, the narrator describes a harsh winter. He depicts people sticking by their fires and waiting for the “change in season.” The dog, too, acts in ways that can't be foreseen. It switches from helpless animal to assailant. It also goes from a physical creature to an apparition.

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