Chapter 4 Summary

The boy feeds his siblings before carrying in wood for the night. Then he watches out the window for his mother. Finally he sees a speck on the road and it grows larger. He had hoped she might get to bring her father home if she returned the stolen meat, but she is alone. She tells her children that she returned the meat and comforts the boy, saying Sounder is probably healing his wounds in the natural way all animals know. The boy is not consoled.

Mother bought some fat meat, potatoes, and vanilla flavoring with her walnut money. She also brought a cardboard box. The boy sees the hurt in his mother’s eyes, but she says nothing about what happened in town. Tonight mother hums as she picks walnut kernels. She does not tell one of her wonderful Bible stories, even though he asks her. The next morning, the boy searches for Sounder in the woods. He comes home bedraggled and discouraged—and without the dog. Mother reminds him loss is part of living, and their family was born to lose.

Weeks go by and Sounder does not return. For Christmas, Mother bakes two cakes, a small one and a large one which she places in the cardboard box from the store. The next morning, mother asks the boy to take the cake to his father. Women are not allowed in the prison, so the boy must make the troublesome trip. She watches him walk away; when he is far enough away not to see her tears, she hollers at him to “act perkish” so he will not grieve his father. The boy walks but is afraid, especially as he gets close to town. Church bells are ringing and the boy thinks about the worn-out toys people in the big houses gave his mother and wishes they would have given her an old book. He is certain he could learn to read if he had a book.

The boy is early and waits until the clock strikes twelve. The hateful guard frisks him and destroys the cake to ensure there is no weapon hidden inside it. Now it is a box of crumbs. The boy feels the same “hopeless hatred” he felt when the deputies took his father away and imagines the cruel death he would like the guard to experience. Finally the guard unlocks a gate and shoves the boy into a long hallway. His father is behind the fourth door down and is unchained. The boy has imagined asking his father how Sounder came to him as a pup, but now he only feels a mixture of pity and hate as he pushes the box of crumbs into his father’s cell. The boy only talks about Sounder while his father only talks about coming home soon. He tells the boy not to come here again. The boy is the last to leave the jail and refuses to let the cruel guard see him cry.