In A Dark Brown Dog, by Steven Crane, a stray, dark brown dog attempts to befriend a child on the street, who eventually takes him in and lives with the child until the dog meets an untimely fate. Although the short story is quite complex and has multiple possible interpretations, one of the most significant interpretations is the comparison of the story to slavery or prejudice. The whole story was an enormous collection of metaphors and symbolism that connected each character to a group of people related to slavery.
All throughout the short story, the author repeats the term “dark brown dog”, when “a small dog” or simply “dog” would’ve sufficed. This emphasizes the adjectives “dark” and “brown”, and one solution comes to mind that fits the description and the context: being a slave. This is also the title of the short story, so it shows how the plot will revolve around this “dog”. However, this “dark brown dog” isn’t just a slave, but is a recently freed slave. This can be inferred towards the beginning of the story, where it says that “a short rope was dragging from his neck” , which symbolizes that the slave was freed. In addition, the author included the fact that the dog occasionally stumbled on the rope, a detail that wasn’t entirely necessary, which shows how the dog wasn’t yet accustomed to being free, and therefore symbolizes a newly freed slave.
In contrast to the dark brown dog, the child most likely represents the new generation of people after slaves were freed. This is because the child seemed curious about the dog, and attempted to have “an interview” with him. Despite the fact that they were quite friendly to one another, the child still displayed authority, having struck the dog for becoming to excited. This would make sense if the child was a new generation white child and the dog a former slave, since it would explain why the child wanted to play with the dog (generally new people attempt to befriend one another before anything). The repeated beatings show how the child still believes they are superior to the dog, even though they become friends. This happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s after the Civil War, since white and black children still played, but not equally.
When the dog became apart of the family, the father and the rest of the family repeatedly beat or tried to beat the dog whenever possible, even if it was without good reason. This would show how the rest of the family symbolizes the white population that still resents African Americans, since they used to torture or even lynch black people back then. Throughout the dog’s stay with the family, the dog learns to accept the child’s beatings because the child took care of him and served as his guardian from the other members of the family. This demonstrates how the child or the new generation doesn’t quite understand why they treat African Americans unfairly, but is instead taught to do it. Although the dog seems to be fairing fine despite the repeated beatings, the events soon come to a climax when the father comes home drunk and throws the dog out the window for “fun”, killing him. This tragedy represents the climax of lynching, where white mobs used to attack innocent blacks and hang them for no good reason. Even though the child is sad, he is unable to do anything about it because the father provides for him, the same way the white population provides for the country.
In this short story, many instances of repeated terms and details demonstrate the symbolism the story provides for slavery and prejudice. Through all these things, the overall message the author Steven Crane wanted to get across was the unfairness of prejudice. He builds the father as a character of cruelty and unpredictability, comparing him to white people back when racism existed. The story tried to open people’s hearts to the horrors of racism, and show that prejudice is taught to future generations, not some innate belief and isn’t based on reason.