Story Analysis of ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ By Stephen Crane


I bring you the ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading together. You can visit my site for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments section.

Read of the Day 

Today, we will read A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane. I must give a trigger warning before you read this story because it tells the truth as it is. If not for stating the obvious, the story loses its potency and realism, which the author is famous for. 

You can read the short story online here.

About the Author 

Stephen Crane was an American novelist, poet, and journalist who is considered the pioneer of literary naturalism. His celebrated works include the novels The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, short story collections The Open Boat and Other Tales and Whilomville Stories and poetry collections The Black Riders and War Is Kind.

Story Analysis 

A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane was written in 1893 and published in Cosmopolitan (March 1901). 

At the outset, it’s a story that revolves around the endearing but complex relationship between a child and a dark brown dog he finds on the streets. Interestingly, Crane was fond of dogs and he’s even penned his love for them in his poem I’d Rather Have which he wrote at the tender age of eight.

But then, as you read this paradoxical love-hate relationship story between the child and the dog, you suspect this odd tale runs deep. 

It’s because A Dark Brown Dog story is an allegory with underlying threads of intergenerational trauma and Stockholm’s Syndrome set against the backdrop of a racist, complicit society. 

The dark brown dog refers to the African-American slaves in the post-Civil War era who were looking forward to a life of love, acceptance, equality, and freedom.

The child refers to the younger generation Americans who were more empathetic to the other races but still the victims of their circumstances. 

The mother represents the Federal Laws for the equality, safety and protection of the African-Americans. 

The father represents the local Draconian Jim Crow Laws that enforced the segregation, repression and persecution of African-Americans who denied basic civil rights. 

There are more ample examples of symbolism in the story such as the dog’s leash showing the slavery of African-Americans or the dog lying on its back in difficult times showing how the African-American slaves were placed on their back and beaten up by the white Americans. 

The story drives home several messages that are pertinent today.

How hate is not inherent, but a learned trait! And so we understand why the child behaves the way he does with the naive, innocent dog. 

We see how the dog is conditioned to be servile.

“He was proud to be the retainer of so great a monarch.”

Despite being free and a victim, the dog is tolerant, and worse still, feels apologetic for the abuse.

“He was too much of a dog to try to look to be a martyr or to plot revenge.”

Crane urges us to remove our rose-tinted glasses and understand that mere prayer cannot move mountains or serve as salvation for our poor choices. Silence and passive behaviour from the victims and onlooking society will only reinforce abuse and embolden the abuser. 

He also reinforces how immaterial good intentions are. How power politics play a deadly role in our society and can dictate the fate of our mere existence. 

The story takes diabolical turns as it portrays the depths of evil that the powerful can go to maintain and revel in their supremacy.

The child shows no remorse for his abusive behaviour. The father goes a step further as he directs and enacts the violence for fun and gets a carnival-like thrill. 

 “He swung him two or three times hilariously about his head.”

The dog gets the undeserving treatment only because his kind, loyal, and sweet ways are perceived as weak, vulnerable, making it an easy soft target for abuse. 

While there has been largely praise for Crane’s A Dark Brown Dog story, there has also been a fair amount of criticism. Certain sections felt Crane’s choice of a human character for the whites and an animal to symbolise African-Americans to be derogatory. 

While the critics have a point, there’s no denying the dog’s tragic story was no different from the fate of the blacks in America. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s that African-Americans achieved some semblance of equality. 

This Edwardian classic story holds relevance and significance to this day, with minorities being treated unfairly because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or immigrant status.

While the animal abuse in A Dark Brown Dog can unsettle you, it also hits you how apt the story is today with the growing awareness and concern for modern animal rights. 

A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane will always haunt me for the dying humanity in our dark world.

How do you feel about the story? 

* I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z.

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.


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