Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 252

"The Old Man Slave and the Mastiff" is a short story by Patrick Chamoiseau. It centers on a slave master, a large mastiff dog, and an elderly slave. One of the most important thing to note about the story is that the mastiff--which was imported from overseas--made the journey towards the Americas in a slave ship. The dog, which is supposed to be powerful, is emaciated just like the slaves on the ship after surviving the Middle Passage.

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At the beginning of the story, the old male slave that accompanies the slave master is quiet, seemingly weak and completely devoid of humanity. He has been a slave for so long that he obeys commands automatically like a robot.

When the dog begins to strengthen and get healthier, it becomes a weapon of control utilized by the slave master. It captures multiple runaway slaves, but it only does so because he is conditioned to obey his master, just as the slaves are conditioned to obey. However, the mastiff's strength and power seems to mirror the growing confidence and strength of the elderly slave.

One day, full of years of pent-up energy, the elderly slave runs away at the break of dawn. Unbeknownst to the slave master or the other slaves, the elderly man had been planning his escape every day of his life. In a spiritual way, the old man absorbs the energy of the powerful dog. When the old man successfully escapes, the dog does not go after him, but simply howls.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

The symbolic meanings of the story are suggested by the generic names of the characters and the ways the characters relate to each other. For example, the mastiff clearly expresses the cruelty of the Master; however, more subtly, the mastiff is also related to the slaves and specifically the old man slave. The mastiff also is a captive: It shares the slaves’ experience of the middle passage, is kept penned in its cage except when it does the Master’s bidding, and communicates on an instinctive level with the slaves, especially the old man slave. The mastiff is also linked to the fury of the surge, notably that of the old man slave. In some ways, the mastiff is identified more closely with the slaves than with the Master, and therefore the mastiff produces a forlorn howl at the end when the old man slave escapes.

The reader’s identification with each of these generic characters in turn is encouraged by the way the story is told. The narrator, who occasionally sounds like another character in the story, speaks from a limited omniscient point of view, going only partway into the mind of each character. Even the old man slave’s consciousness, which predominates toward the story’s end, is not fully explained but left...

(The entire section contains 730 words.)

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