Quotes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Old Man Slave and the Mastiff Study Guide

Subscribe Now

When the mastiff and a new group of slaves arrive, the old man slave sees himself reflected in them. To survive his life on the sugarcane plantation, he had to push away his memories of his old life. However, the arrival of the mastiff creates a change in him. Patrick Chamoiseau says:

It was, for the old man slave, a moment of confusion: seeing those men who looked so much like him leave the ship, all only half revived from the longest of deaths. The oil that coated their sickly skin blended with their sweat and traces of anguish. Their screams, companion to extreme suffering, had left permanent deposits of garlic-smelling foam in the corners of their mouths. They still carried the odors of the country of Before, its ultimate rhythms, its languages that were already almost lost.

That day isn't the end of his new feelings and memories. The Storyteller talks about the importance of the mastiff and seems to say that it's more than just a mere dog. On one hand, it's a terrifying figure that drags back runaway slaves and leaves them bleeding and injured. But the Storyteller says:

This mastiff, he would say, keeps watch over the dead and over hell. He described it as a bird with fur, a horse with feathers, a one-horned buffalo, a voiceless toad man, or a carnivorous flower. Its body, made of mother of water and wounded moon, guarded precious gates. He explained that whoever overcame the dog would open the door to unknown happiness.

Its presence shakes the old man slave and makes it more difficult for him to stay quiet, placid, and obedient. It's not that he'd never wanted to leave before, but that he found ways to push back those urges. He kept them inside himself to stay alive on the plantation. Once the mastiff arrives, though, he can't deny himself anymore. Chamoiseau writes:

The surge had shaken the old man many times. No one had known. Some felt it only once in their lives, but he had suffered through it almost every day. Day after day, and more often when it abandoned the others. The first time, it left him curled up on the floor of his hut, in the middle of the night, with an irrepressible desire to scream himself to death, to set off running, to go into spasms, to strangle something.

This is why he eventually runs away. He escapes the mastiff and flees into the woods—though what's waiting for him there is impossible to say.

Previous

Characters