As Birds Bring Forth the Sun

by Alistair MacLeod
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 268

As Birds Bring Forth the Sun by Alistair MacLeod is the story of a family curse.

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The story begins by following a farmer/fisherman who owns a big grey dog. The man is very attached to this dog, having rescued her after she was abandoned. He finds a mate for her, and she gives birth to six puppies. However, soon after the birth, all the dogs disappear.

A year later, the man and his two sons go out to fish, and a storm forces them to sail their boat to a nearby island. As they approach, the man sees his beloved dog at the top of a hill. He calls to her, and she is so overjoyed at seeing her master that she tackles him. Her six puppies, now grown, think this is an attack. They join in and kill the man in front of his sons.

The narrator confesses that this is the story of his great-great-great-grandfather, whose death seemed to put a curse on the family. One son experienced nightmares so awful he died by suicide. The other drowned his sorrows in alcohol, and one day while he was in a pub, he got into a fight with a grey-haired man. During the beating, six more grey-haired men appeared and beat the son to death.

The narrator claims that each new generation has been visited by the grey dog. Soon after, someone always dies. The story ends with the narrator and his five brothers at his father's side as he lies in his deathbed, and they all worry the grey dog will come to them, too.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

“As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” begins as the story of a man whose family name, which is never revealed, indicates a Scottish Highland heritage. He lives by the ocean and has a large family whom he supports by fishing and farming. The man has a huge gray dog, that is devoted to him. He adopted her when she was just a small puppy that someone had left on his doorstep. Later, he saved her life again by nursing her back to health after she was run over by a cart. Though he has never given the dog a name but simply calls her cù mòr glas, or “the big gray dog” in Gaelic, he is very much attached to her. When she comes into heat, he searches out a male large enough for her and helps them breed. However, shortly before her pups are to be born, the big gray dog disappears. The whole family worries about her, her master most of all, but she never returns.

More than a year later, while the man and two of his sons are out in their boat fishing, a sudden storm blows up, forcing them to take refuge on a nearby island. Suddenly they see the missing dog, standing on a hilltop. Her master is so overjoyed that he jumps out of the boat and wades toward shore; spying him, she rushes headlong down the hill, jumps up on him, and in her enthusiasm knocks him down. Suddenly six more gray dogs rush down to join in what they assume is an attack on this strange man. Before their mother can drive them off, they have killed her former master. The next day, when the sea is calmer, the sons take their dead father home. Later searches of the island reveal no trace of the dogs, though periodically a sighting is reported.

At this point the narrator reveals that the man who died was his own great-great-great-grandfather. This tragic incident had grave consequences. Because of it, the narrator’s great-great-grandfather, born a few months after the dogs’ attack, never had a chance to know his father. Moreover, neither of the two boys who witnessed their father’s death ever recovered from the shock. The younger of them had terrible nightmares about the gray dog, which he associated with death; after a particularly vivid dream, he killed himself. The older son lived to be forty, but only by drowning his memories in drink. His end came one night in a Glasgow pub, when something he said about the big gray dog resulted in his getting into a fight with a large, gray-haired man. According to the story, when the two took their quarrel outside, six more gray-haired men appeared. The seven of them beat the son to death, then vanished.

The narrator admits that all of this happened in the distant past. However, he insists, each of the succeeding generations of his family has had visitations by the gray dog, and always they were followed by someone’s death. What has reminded him of these stories is that he and his five brothers, all gray-haired, are at their father’s bedside in a Toronto hospital. They all worry that their father may have a dream or a vision of the gray dog and give up his attempt to survive. However, what they fear most is that the gray dog will appear to them, for in their hearts they know that the tales are true.

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