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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Set in the late nineteenth century, the novel is a segment of the life and times of an impoverished black sharecropper's family in the Southern United States. The main setting is an isolated, dingy cabin situated on the fringes of a white man's plantation. The action also moves down a dusty road with curtained houses, to a jailhouse, to a schoolhouse, and to the teacher's house. In all of these settings there is a profound picture of human spirit and tenacity in the novel.
List Of Characters
(The author has chosen not to name his human characters; instead, they are referred to by their position, such as Mother, Father, Son, or Sheriff. The only character to bear a name is the family dog, Sounder.)
Boy - the protagonist of the novel, who is a sensitive child. He must endure loneliness, lack of education, poverty, and discrimination; as a result, he often identifies his plight with that of Jospeh in the Bible. The boy is forced by circumstances to grow up quickly. When his father is taken away to jail, he must shoulder the responsibilities of his family. He is given hope towards the end of the novel by the schoolteacher who offers him a chance to better himself through education.
Father - a black sharecropper who strives hard to earn a decent living for his family. Poverty compels him to steal. When he is caught, he is imprisoned. He returns at the close of the novel, weak and disfigured.
Sounder - a ferocious coonhound, fiercely devoted to his masters, the black sharecropper and his family. The sheriff's deputy shoots him when he is chasing the wagon that is carrying the father away to jail. He disappears in the woods to nurse his wounds and returns home in the middle of the novel; just like his master who comes home later, he is debilitated and maimed.
Mother - a kind, timid, and patient woman, who faces hardships stoically. Although not very strong, she fights in her own way for her family's survival. She has a great deal of faith in God and teaches her children Bible stories.
Schoolteacher - a kind, learned soul who is moved by the boy's plight and makes provisions for the boy to attend school. He is the agent of change in the boy's life.
Sheriff - a jeering, ruthless, prejudiced white officer, who is corrupted by power. He boastfully claims to smell 'a ham cooking' and 'a thievin nigger' from a mile. When he arrests Father, he treats him roughly and rudely and threatens to kill Sounder if the boy does not hold the dog away from him and his men.
Jail-keeper - a swarthy, red-faced man who is employed at the jail where father is imprisoned. He is very nasty to the boy and smashes the cake he brings as a Christmas present for his father.
Guard - a cruel and malicious soul who guards a prisoner work camp. When the boy seriously wounds his finger in front of him, the guard laughs uncouthly instead of sympathizing with or helping the child.