Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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 a mystery. The old man slave himself does not fully understand what is happening to him, as though he is in the grip of forces beyond rationality.

In keeping with this mystifying point of view, the story is left hanging at...

(The entire section is 478 words.)