This short story by Stephen Crane has generally been understood as a morality tale told through allegory. The fact that the dog's color is so important as to be part of the story's title is indicative here. It is not only a dog, but a dark brown dog, wearing a rope around its neck—which indicates that it was once owned by somebody and is now unsure of how to escape from that background. When we understand that Stephen Crane was writing here in 1893, during the era of the Jim Crow South in the United States, we can begin to imagine what the dog represents: the Black everyman who, having been freed from his former slavery, finds that he cannot escape it. The halcyon future he may have imagined for himself, once freed from his burden, does not seem to exist, and the wounds of slavery continue to trip him up as he tries to progress, much as the dog trips several times over its leash in the story.
The story is told from the perspective of the dog, by and large, and while this perspective is limited, we can see that the dog is eager to please and yearns to be part of society. It is people who have abused him in the past, and yet it is people to whom he instinctively tries to return. He has never known anything else. At the same time, the dog has internalized a sense of guilt. When he is punished, he simply rolls over onto his back and prays for deliverance. It is hoped by the dog, presumably, that a kind and decent person would recognize this prayer and submission for what it is, but neither the child nor his family do so. They do not understand the mentality of the dog or that it has thoughts or feelings. Again, it is of vital importance to the narrative that we as readers bear witness to the emotional depth and journey of the dog, whereas we are not really offered any direct insight into what takes place in the mind of the child or his simple, savage father. To characterize the Black man as a dog gives some indication of how many white people in the Jim Crow South thought of Black people; but to demonstrate so clearly that the dog has more emotional depth than the child or his father indicates how incorrect this prejudice is.
The dog instinctively makes an approach to a child. Again, the symbolism here is clear. The child represents a new generation. He is the group of white people not old enough to remember slavery and keen to embrace a new era. However, he has never had a dog before, and it takes the child some time to grasp how to interact with the dog. At first, he beats it, and the dog simply forgives this. Once the child becomes friends with the dog, he recognizes its value and comes to it for comfort. However, it has been much noted that white slave owners, and the children of slave owners, often befriended and came to their Black slaves for...
(The entire section contains 790 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this A Dark Brown Dog study guide. You'll get access to all of the A Dark Brown Dog content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.