Dayne Sherman’s short story Snakebit describes a man’s passion and love for his dog and the extent to which he is willing to go to protect his best friend. The narrator is a forty-year-old bachelor whose only companion and partner is his dog. The author’s use of descriptive first-person narration illustrates the nature of the relationship between man and his dog.
In the narrative, the dog acts as a social companion, family member, friend and an economic asset to the narrator. However, when the neighbor kills it, it becomes the source of his unending suffering. Therefore, when Wicker threatens and kills the dog, the narrator decides to avenge his dog as any man would do in the narrative’s contemporary society. The author of the story presents a unique relationship between a man and his dog. He places a dog as a person’s equal, his companion. The author presents the man’s relationship with his dog as with an equal member of the society.
As the story begins, the narrator describes his grandfather and his passion for hunting squirrels and foxes - animals that cause significant damage to a farm. The narrator describes the significance of the dog in the life of the farm. He describes the dog as, “one of them rare breed of dogs” (Sherman 64). It is evident that the relationship between man and dog begins at a high note since the dog has unique attributes that are rare and valued, “he was a registered treeing feist” (Sherman 64). It is prudent to assume that a treeing dog in such a traditional society is valuable to farmers. In a farmer’s perspective, squirrels are a menace and cause significant damage to crops. The narrative is set in a time that farmers must have dogs to deter rodents and wild animals that destroy crops or kill farm animals. The narrator’s dog is among those dogs that are capable of deterring squirrels from invading and keeping them off the group. Hence, the dog protects the narrator’s economic wealth by chasing squirrels away.
The relationship between the narrator and his dog is described as a father-son relationship. The dog is described as sitting on the narrator’s belly with the head resting on his chest like a child, “Like my very own son” (Sherman 64). The unique nature of the dog and difficulty of obtaining a dog with similar characteristics is among the factors that cause the narrator to cherish the dog. Similar to a parent the narrator feels and acts protectively towards the dog, when it is threatened by Olland Wicker. Evidently, the differences between the narrator and Wicker were based on more than the attitude to the dog. The narrator describes himself as a reserved and peaceful man. Meanwhile, Wicker is abusive to his wife and perceives himself being above all others, “thought he owned the road and the dirt below it” (Sherman 64).
Wicker complains that the narrator’s dog is urinating on his wife’s roses; however, the narrator is thinking of the abuse that Wicker’s wife is subjected to every other day. Consequently, the narrator becomes defensive like a parent would defends a child stating that the dog’s urination is inconsequential to the well-being of the flowers. It is at this point that Wicker threatens to do something about the dog. The fact that the narrator responds to the threat on the dog’s life with a stern warning to Wicker illustrates the nature of the relationship between man and his dog. Under normal circumstances, the narrator would not have issued such a stern warning to Wicker. However, dogs are valued members of the community as the narrator points, “you better never mess with a feller’s dog in Baxter Parish” (Sherman 64). When Wicker kills the dog, it becomes evident that the narrator valued and loved his dog since he took an entire day off from work. He took the carcass for an autopsy, buried it, mourned it and investigated the cause of death, all in a single day. The narrator is a dedicated man attempting to solve the mystery of his dog’s death just like a parent would for unexpected and unexplained death of a child.
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The narrator appreciates the dog’s unique attributes, obedience, resilience and dedication to treeing squirrels, “he’d treed as high as twenty-seven squirrels in one November morning” (Sherman 64). The loss of a friend, companion and champion makes the narrator angry at the dog’s killer and he decides to teach his dog’s killer a lifelong lesson. In order to achieve his objective, the narrator “worked up a bona fide funk” (Sherman 65) and went to the Wickers’ compound to investigate the cause of his dog's death. Since the arrogance, brutality and wickedness of Wicker was well known to the narrator, he is not overly surprised to discover poisoned sausages mixed in a pan and placed near the bushes for the dog to find.
The discovery alters the narrator from a peaceful man to a vengeful person seeking retribution for his best friend and companion, the dead dog. The narrator treats the dog as the source of his happiness, a valued member of the family and a partner who contributes towards the prosperity of the farm. However, while the dog is a blessing to the narrator as long as it remains alive, it becomes a nightmare for Wicker the moment he poisons the sausages that cause its death. In this respect, the dog is a purveyor of goodwill to the narrator and a lifelong suffering to Wicker, its killer.
The author integrates irony and symbolism to illustrate critical events that contribute towards developing the narrative’s themes. In this case, the author integrates irony in the quest for retribution through the use of snake poison as the narrator’s tool for delivering punishment to Wicker. The fact that the narrator left a snake to live peacefully in his grape yard is an indication that he is not a violent man and values all forms of life. However, the killing of his dog makes the narrator realize that letting the snake live in the grape yard in peace was meant to serve a higher purpose, “I figure creatures are here for a reason” (Sherman 65).