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A Dark Brown Dog Discussion Questions

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Stephen Crane's story, ~'A Dark Brown Dog~', is an example of allegory that also raises important questions about oppression and freedom. This lesson offers discussion questions that will help your students understand the text.

Teaching A Dark Brown Dog

Whether you are teaching a unit on short stories or a series of lessons about allegories, Stephen Crane's A Dark Brown Dog is a powerful text to work with. This story deals with a young boy who is ruthless toward a pet dog, who he also loves in a strange way.

The boy's father is angry and abusive, and the boy often projects the same rage upon the dog. At the same time, the dog has a subjectivity of its own, and the boy empathizes with him intermittently.

Many have described this story as representative of the experience of freed slaves during the Jim Crow period. To help your students get as much as possible out of the story and develop their own opinions about its meaning, try using the questions in this lesson for facilitating strong discussions.

Questions About Characters

Here, you will find questions about the various characters in A Dark Brown Dog.

  • How would you describe the boy's personality in this story? Why do you think he is the kind of person he is?
  • What do you know about the dog at the beginning of the story? How does the dog change over the course of the story, and why? What does Crane represent via these changes?
  • Characterize the boy's father. Talk about how he behaves, how he seems to feel, and what motivates his reactions. Also discuss the impact he seems to have on those around him, including his son.
  • Describe at least one of the more peripheral characters in this story, and show how that character plays a role in the plot as well as its allegorical elements.
  • Discuss which of the characters in this story you can identify with the most, and why.

Questions About Plot

This section offers questions that help your students work together to untangle the plot in Crane's story.

  • Discuss how the boy in this story encounters the dog in the first place, and talk about how this introduction informs their unfolding relationship.
  • How do you come to learn about the role of the father in the boy's family? How does the initial encounter with the father drive the rest of the plot?
  • What would you describe as the major problems or conflicts moving the plot of this story forward?
  • Explain what happens in the neighborhood and community when the father throws the dog out the window. Why do you think Crane chose to include this communal reaction? How does it influence the plot?
  • Discuss the scene at the end of the story. What do you think this conclusion shows about Crane's overall message? What does or does not surprise you about the way the story ends?
  • Choose a quote from the story that you think illuminates something significant about the plot, and discuss the quote you have chosen with your classmates.

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