(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The characters in this story do not have names but are referred to as the Master, the mastiff, and the old man slave. The story begins when the Master imports the huge mastiff from overseas to quell the slaves on his sugarcane plantation. The emaciated mastiff arrives in port with a shipload of slaves, having endured the middle passage with them. The old man slave, as he always does, accompanies the Master to pick up the large, powerful dog. The old man slave has been a slave for so long that he moves like an automaton, without personality. He is an invisible man whose presence is taken for granted.

As the Master and old man slave arrive back at the Martinique plantation, six or seven Creole dogs begin to howl but suddenly grow deathly quiet at the sight of the mastiff. The mastiff’s effect on the slaves is much the same. The large dog instills instant fear in both the other dogs and the slaves. Slave children approach the mastiff out of curiosity but soon run, afraid the mastiff will “mark” their scent.

They have reason to fear. After a few weeks on a diet of raw, bloody meat, fed to it by the Master, the mastiff regains its strength and is ready for action. The mastiff never growls, barks, or howls but simply eyes the slaves with a malignant look. However, the mastiff demonstrates its might when the next slave, a young man, gets the “surge” (an urge to escape or attack the commanders), snaps, and bolts into the woods. The Master...

(The entire section is 405 words.)