Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Alistair MacLeod’s other stories, “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” deals with the appearance of the supernatural in ordinary life. The title is taken from a sentence near the end of the story when, after asserting that he and his brothers are afraid, the narrator admits that there are some people who call faith in the supernatural mere foolishness. They would lump it with the beliefs some still hold that Earth is actually flat or that it is the flight of birds that causes the sun to rise. The brothers are not simple people. They also might be expected to equate the supernatural with superstition; however, they cannot. As the narrator points out, even his most skeptical sibling arrives at the hospital uneasy, and once there, he is no less afraid than his brothers that the gray dog will appear.

MacLeod does not offer the supernatural as an alternative to the real world. The dog’s master is an ordinary person, the father of eleven children. He is a man who knows about birth as well as death and about domestic happiness as well as sudden violence. He gets dirty. He plants crops, breeds animals, casts out nets, and keeps his eye on the sky. The narrator, too, is rooted in reality, as can be seen in the matter-of-fact way he describes his great-great-great-grandfather’s terrible death. The narrator also offers a plausible explanation as to why the dog was unable to return home with her pups. The farm is a real place, so is the Glasgow pub, and so is the hospital room where the story ends. However, and this is the point of the final paragraphs, although the gray dog began as an ordinary dog living in the real world, in some mysterious way she has transcended that world to become not only a part of the ancestral memory but also a presence just outside the door.