The story of was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman from New York who was especially interested in the histories, customs, and culture of the Dutch settlers in that state. It is set in a small, very old village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains, which was founded by some of the earliest Dutch settlers.He lived there He is descended from gallant soldiers but is a peaceful man himself, known for being a kind and gentle neighbor. His single flaw is an utter inability to do any work that could turn a profit. It is not because he is lazy—in fact, he is perfectly willing to spend all day helping someone else with their labor. He is just incapable of doing anything to help his own household. He also is well-known for being an obedient, henpecked husband, for Dame has no problem shouting insults into the neighborhood and tracking him down in the village to berate him. All the women and children in the village love him and side with him against his wife, and even the dogs do not bark at him.
Indeed, when he tries to console himself and escape from Dame, he often goes to a sort of philosophical or political club that meets on a bench outside of a small inn. Here the more idle men actually gossip and tell sleepy stories about nothing, every once in a while discussing "current" events when they find an old newspaper. Nicholaus Vedder is the landlord of the inn and the leader of the group. He never speaks but makes his opinions clear based on how he smokes his pipe. Even here, he cannot escape from his wife, who berates everyone for encouraging his idleness.
His indolence is probably to be blamed for his farm's bad luck, so Dame has more than a little cause to berate him—which she does, morning, noon, and night. As the years pass, things continue to get worse, and his only recourse is to escape to the outdoors. His one companion in the household is his dog Wolf, who for no good reason is just as badly treated by the petticoat tyrant Dame.
On one trip to the woods, he wanders to one of the highest points in the Catskills. Fatigued from the climb, he rests, and soon the sun has started to set. He knows he will not be able to get home before dark. As he gets up, he hears a voice call his name. A shadowy figure seems to be in need of assistance, so he approaches the man, who looks very strange. He is short and square, with thick bushy hair and a grizzled beard, dressed in the antique Dutch fashion. He asks Van Winkle for help climbing higher with a keg. They reach an amphitheatre in the woods, where a collection of similarly odd-looking men are bowling, which makes the environs sound like it is thundering. Although they are involved in pleasurable pursuits, they are silent and grim.
The man starts to serve drinks from the keg and gestures to Van Winkle to help. He eventually takes a drink for himself. It tastes delicious, and he goes back for more and more until he is quite drunk and lies down to pass out.
When he wakes up in the morning, he is anxious about what Dame Van Winkle will say about his late return. He reaches for his gun but finds that it is now rusty and worm-eaten—perhaps the men tricked him and replaced his gun. Wolf also is gone and does not respond to Van Winkle's calls. He gets up and feels quite stiff. When he tries to retrace his steps, the amphitheatre appears to have become an impenetrable wall of rock, and some of the natural features of the area have changed.
Van Winkle returns to the village but recognizes nobody, which is strange for a small village, and he notices that everyone is strangely dressed. They look surprised to see him, too, and he realizes that his beard has grown a foot longer. The children hoot at him and the dogs bark. The village itself has grown larger. He begins to think he must be going crazy, for the natural scenery is the only thing that is recognizable. The flagon must have made him lose his mind.
At his house, he finds it in complete disrepair and abandoned. His wife and children are not there. The inn where he used to meet his friends has disappeared, and where there used to be a picture of George III there is now one of a certain George Washington. The new group of people at the new hotel there is full of completely different people, and their discussions are more argumentative than he remembers. The crowd asks him questions, especially about what political party he belongs to. He is confused and says he is still a loyal subject of the king. They declare him a traitor and a Tory. When he says he has just come looking for his friends, they tell him that Nicholaus Vedder has been dead for eighteen years and Van Bummel is now in Congress.
Rip Van Winkle becomes still more distressed and confused when he asks if they know Rip Van Winkle and the townspeople point out a different lazy-looking man. He begins to think he is crazy. A familiar woman approaches, and he finds out enough to decide that she is his daughter. She explains that her father went out with his gun one day twenty years ago and was never heard from since. Rip Van Winkle tells everyone that for him it has only been one night, which makes them think he is crazy, too. The one piece of good news is that Dame Van Winkle recently passed away.
Peter Vanderdonk, the town's oldest inhabitant, vouches for Rip Van Winkle and says that he has heard tales passed down about the ghosts of Hendrick Hudson and his men appearing once every twenty years; they bowl and keep a guardian eye on the region that Hudson explored. The tale seems to fit with Rip's experience. Rip goes to live with his daughter, who is married to a cheerful farmer. He lives much happier than he ever was with Dame Van Winkle. Also, he is now old enough for his idleness to be socially acceptable, and he returns to the hotel and is again well-loved in the village. He eventually learns about the Revolutionary War and everything else that has passed, but the only yoke of government that he cares about having thrown off is that of Dame Van Winkle.
Knickerbocker closes the story with an impassioned declaration of its veracity on personal examination. He also gives a brief history of the magic and fables associated with the Catskills, suggesting that even the Indians tell of similar experiences in the area in their own stories and myths.
Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife, Faith, outside of his house in Salem Village. Faith, wearing pink ribbons in her cap, asks him to stay with her, saying that she feels scared when she is by herself and free to think troubling thoughts. Goodman Brown tells her that he must travel for one night only and reminds her to say her prayers and go to bed early. He reassures her that if she does this, she will come to no harm. Goodman Brown takes final leave of Faith, thinking to himself that she might have guessed the evil purpose of his trip and promising to be a better person after this one night.
Goodman Brown sets off on a road through a gloomy forest. He looks around, afraid of what might be behind each tree, thinking that there might be Indians or the devil himself lurking there. He soon comes upon a man in the road who greets Goodman Brown as though he had been expecting him. The man is dressed in regular clothing and looks normal except for a walking stick he carries. This walking stick features a carved serpent, which is so lifelike it seems to move.
The man offers Goodman Brown the staff, saying that it might help him walk faster, but Goodman Brown refuses. He says that he showed up for their meeting because he promised to do so but does not wish to touch the staff and wants to return to the village. Goodman Brown tells the man that his family members have been Christians and good people for generations and that he feels ashamed to associate with him. The man replies that he knew Goodman Brown's father and grandfather, as well as other members of churches in New England, and even the governor of the state.
The man's words confuse Goodman Brown, who says that even if this is so, he wants to return to the village for Faith's sake. At that moment, the two come upon an old woman hobbling through the woods, and Goodman Brown recognizes Goody Cloyse, who he knows to be a pious, respected woman from the village. He hides, embarrassed to be seen with the man, and the man taps Goody Cloyse on the shoulder. She identifies him as the devil and reveals herself to be a witch, on her way to the devil's evil forest ceremony.
Despite this revelation, Goodman Brown tells the man that he still intends to turn back, for Faith's sake. The man says that Goodman Brown should rest. Before disappearing, he gives Goodman Brown his staff, telling him that he can use it for transport to the ceremony if he changes his mind. As he sits and gathers himself, Goodman Brown hears horses traveling along the road and hides once again.
Soon he hears the voices of the minister of the church and Deacon Gookin, who are also apparently on their way to the ceremony. Shocked, Goodman Brown swears that even though everyone else in the world has gone to the devil, for Faith's sake he will stay true to God. However, he soon hears voices coming from the ceremony and thinks he recognizes Faith's voice. He screams her name, and a pink ribbon from her cap flutters down from the sky.
Certain that there is no good in the world because Faith has turned to evil, Goodman Brown grabs the staff, which pulls him quickly through the forest toward the ceremony. When he reaches the clearing where the ceremony is taking place, the trees around it are on fire, and he can see in the firelight the faces of various respected members of the community, along with more disreputable men and women and Indian priests. But he doesn't see Faith, and he starts to hope once again that she might not be there.
A figure appears on a rock and tells the congregation to present the converts. Goodman Brown thinks he sees his father beckoning him forward and his mother trying to hold him back. Before he can rethink his decision, the minister and Deacon Gookin drag him forward. Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier bring forth another person, robed and covered so that her identity is unknown. After telling the two that they have made a decision that will reveal all the wickedness of the world to them, the figure tells them to show themselves to each other. Goodman Brown sees that the other convert is Faith. Goodman Brown tells Faith to look up to heaven and resist the devil, then suddenly finds himself alone in the forest.
The next morning Goodman Brown returns to Salem Village, and every person he passes seems evil to him. He sees the minister, who blesses him, and hears Deacon Gookin praying, but he refuses to accept the blessing and calls Deacon Gookin a wizard. He sees Goody Cloyse quizzing a young girl on Bible verses and snatches the girl away. Finally, he sees Faith at his own house and refuses to greet her. It's unclear whether the encounter in the forest was a dream, but for the rest of his life, Goodman Brown is changed. He doesn't trust anyone in his village, can't believe the words of the minister, and doesn't fully love his wife. He lives the remainder of his life in gloom and fear.
At the beginning of the story, Hawthorne/the narrator refers to a story he read once in a newspaper or magazine about a man who leaves his wife for 20 years but lives, all this time, only a block away from her. The man observed his wife often, and only returned after his affairs had been settled and memory of him had passed. He simply returned home, resumed life, and served as a faithful husband for the rest of their lives.
One October evening, a man named Wakefield tells his wife that he is going on a journey, and will be back for supper on Friday. Instead of going on a journey, however, he ventures only to an apartment one street away. In the morning, he considers his next step, realizing that his purpose is not well defined. He is curious about what is happening at home in his absence, and wonders what will come of the matters in which he was once the central figure.
He walks by his old house, but feels strangely disconnected from it, as if he had been away for a long time, and it had changed in his absence. He begins to live a separate life, purchases a disguise and grows determined to stay away from his home until his wife is "frightened half to death". On multiple occasions he passes by his house, watching her grow paler and paler. One day, a doctor visits the home; from afar, Wakefield wonders if his wife will die. But, she recovers, and once again Wakefield believes that she will no longer long for him. Ten years pass.
One day, Wakefield and his wife, now both in old age, pass one another on the streets of London. Their hands touch and they look into each other's eyes, but the crowd carries them away. His wife continues walking into church, although she pauses to look back at the street. Wakefield, on the other hand, runs back to his apartment, and cries out that he is mad. Life has passed him by.
Finally, twenty years after his departure, Wakefield is taking his customary walk toward his old house when he sees a comfortable fire in the second floor and the figure of his wife. The warmth of the house seemed starkly contrasted to the rainy, windy road on which he walked. Wakefield walks into his house and resumes his old way of life.
Hawthorne/the narrator leaves the reunited couple at the threshold, and suggests that: "Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system" and "by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever".
Hawthorne begins the story with a brief description of the literary style and work of fictional Monsieur L'Aubepine, the author of "Rappaccini's Daughter".
Giovanni Guasconti, a young man from southern Italy, comes to Padua to pursue a University education. His room, a high and gloomy chamber in an old mansion, is desolate but for a sole window, which overlooks a beautiful garden. The garden, the youth is told, belongs to Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, a famous doctor who distils the plants from his garden into medicines. In the center of the magnificent garden is one particularly interesting plant - a large shrub with purple blossoms set in a marble vase.
While peering through his window, Giovanni spies the doctor working in the garden. The doctor, a tall, old, emaciated and sickly looking man, examines each plant with clinical intentness; he does not treat the plants with emotion, avoiding both their odors and their touch. As the doctor nears the purple plant, he puts on a mask, but as if finding the task of tending to the plant to be still too dangerous, he calls for his daughter, Beatrice. He relinquishes care of the plant to his daughter, who, as strikingly beautiful as the plants around her, busily begins to tend to the poisonous plant as if it were a sister. That night, Giovanni dreams about Beatrice; in the dream, "flower and maiden were different, and yet the same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape".
The next day, Giovanni meets with Signor Pietro Baglioni, a professor of medicine and Giovanni's father's old friend. He tells Giovanni that Doctor Rappaccini is a brilliant scientist with an objectionable character, as he cares more for science than for mankind and would gladly sacrifice the lives of others for intellectual gain. Baglioni laughs at Giovanni's interest in Beatrice; while all young men are "wild" about her, few have had the fortune of seeing her. Baglioni suggests that Beatrice has learned at her father's feet and that "she is already qualified to fill a professor's chair". On the way home, Giovanni happens to pass a florist and purchases a bouquet of flowers.
Back in his room, Giovanni sees Beatrice pluck one of the blossoms from the purple shrub. A few drops of moisture from the plant fall upon a passing lizard, killing it instantaneously. Beatrice seems unsurprised, and fastens the poisonous blossom to her bosom. Soon thereafter, Beatrice stops to admire a beautiful insect - which immediately drops dead, seemingly at her breath. Giovanni witnesses these scenes with awe and horror, but scarcely has time to respond before Beatrice sees him spying on her from the window. He throws down the bouquet of flowers; she thanks him, and runs away. As she leaves, Giovanni believes that he sees the flowers already withering in her grasp.
For days after this encounter, Giovanni avoids the window, with feelings of both fear and love alive in his heart. He took to running through the streets, his pace matching the pace of thoughts whirling about in his brain. One day, he is overtaken by Baglioni, who is surprised at his haste. Doctor Rappaccini passes him, and the look in his eye tells Baglioni that Giovanni has become the subject of one of the Doctor's experiments. Giovanni does not want to accept this possibility, and breaks away from the old professor.
On his way home, Giovanni is stopped by Lisabetta, an old woman who showed him his room when he first moved to the city. Lisabetta leads him to the garden's secret entryway; for a moment, the thought asses Giovanni's mind that this might be part of the doctor's experiment, but it seemed "absolutely necessary" that he continue into the garden.
Inside the garden, Giovanni and Beatrice begin to talk. She mentions that she knows nothing of her father's science, and asks Giovanni to believe only what he sees with his own eyes. Walking through the garden, they stop at the purple plant. Giovanni extends his hand to pluck one of its blossoms, but Beatrice grasps his hand and flings it away from the plant, exclaiming that it is "fatal". Beatrice flees, and Giovanni sees the Doctor watching them from the shadows. When Giovanni awoke the next day, his hand in pain from her touch, a purple outline of her fingers visible on his skin.
After many meetings with Beatrice, Giovanni is visited one day by Professor Baglioni, who comments on the smell of a strange perfume in Giovanni's room. Baglioni tells Giovanni a story of an Indian prince who sent a woman as a present to Alexander the Great. This woman was beautiful, but had a deadly secret - she had been nourished with poison since birth, so that her being became poisonous and her embrace would bring death. Baglioni tells Giovanni that this is Beatrice's secret as well, a truth Giovanni is unwilling to accept. Baglioni gives Giovanni a vial with an antidote, which he urges Giovanni to give to Beatrice and cure her of her father's work. After showing his visitor the door, however, Giovanni finds that flowers wilt at his touch, and a spider dies from his breath. He realizes that he has now become poisonous, like Beatrice.
In the garden, he confronts Beatrice about the plant. She reveals that her father created it, and that she knew of its dangerous powers - and of its effect on her. Giovanni curses her for severing him from the world and knowingly entrancing him into the same horrible state. Beatrice is shocked, and gravely upset by this. She swears ignorance, and although Giovanni comes to believe her, his words had already hurt her deeply. Giovanni doesn't realize the weight of his words and believes he can still save her; he gives her the antidote, which she willingly drinks. At that same instant, her father appears. He tells her that it was nor a curse, but rather a gift, to be made as "terrible" as she was beautiful. But, Beatrice retorts that she would rather have been loved than feared. As she sinks to the ground, she reminds Giovanni of his hateful words, and asks him, "was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?" The poison in her body had become part of her life; the antidote succeeded not in saving her but in killing her. Baglioni, looking forth from the window, is both triumphant for finally defeating Rappaccini at his own game - but also horrified at the result.
An unnamed narrator opens the story by claiming not to remember the circumstances in which he met his beloved, the lady Ligeia. Although he fixates on her rare learning, her unusual beauty, and her love of language, the narrator cannot specifically recall how Ligeia became his love object. He does speculate, however, that he first encountered her in Germany, where her family lived in an ancient city on the Rhine. He is confident that Ligeia spoke frequently about her family, but he does not believe he ever knew her last name.
The narrator counteracts this ignorance of Ligeia's origins with a faithful memory of her person. According to the narrator, Ligeia is tall, slender, and, in her later days, emaciated. She treads lightly, moving like a shadow. Though fiercely beautiful, Ligeia does not conform to a traditional mold of beauty: the narrator identifies a "strangeness" in her features. Ligeia's most distinctive feature is her hair—black as a raven and naturally curly. Among her physical features, only her brilliant black eyes rival her hair. They conceal the great knowledge and understanding Ligeia possesses and shares with the narrator. The narrator relishes his memory of her beauty but loves her learned mind even more passionately. She has guided him, during the early years of their marriage, through the chaotic world of his metaphysical studies.
As time passes, Ligeia becomes mysteriously ill. On the day of her death, she begs the narrator to read a poem she has composed about the natural tragedy of life. The poem describes a theater where angels have gathered to watch the mysterious actions of mimes, which are controlled by formless, outside presences. Suddenly, amid the drama, a creature intrudes and feeds on the mimes. With the fall of the curtain, the angels reveal that the tragedy is entitled "Man," and the hero is the creature, the Conqueror Worm. With the close of the poem, Ligeia shrieks a prayer about the unfairness of the tragedy and dies.
Devastated by Ligeia's death, the narrator moves to England and purchases an abbey. He soon marries again, this time to the fair, blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine. The narrator's bridal chamber is a Gothic masterpiece, which includes a large window that lets in ghastly rays, a vaulted ceiling, various Eastern knickknacks, and large gold tapestries that hang from the walls. In this bridal chamber, the narrator and Lady Rowena spend the first month of their marriage. During that period, the narrator realizes that Rowena does not love him. At the beginning of the second month, Lady Rowena, like Ligeia, becomes mysteriously ill. Although she recovers temporarily, she reveals a hypersensitivity to sounds and an unexplained fear of the gold tapestries, which she fears are alive.
Lady Rowena's health takes a turn for the worse, and the narrator fears that her death is imminent. Sitting by her bed, he watches her drink a glass of wine, into which mysteriously fall, according to the narrator, three or four large drops of a red fluid. The narrator is unsure of his observations because he has recently smoked opium, to which he has become addicted during his second marriage. Three days later, Rowena dies, and on the fourth day, the narrator sits alone with her corpse but cannot keep his mind from the memories of Ligeia. Later that night, the narrator wakes to moans from Rowena's deathbed, and he discovers that a tinge of color has returned to Rowena's face. Rowena still lives. A second round of moans ensues, and the body reveals more color. However, the flash of life is brief, and Rowena's body becomes icy cold again.
Faced again with memories of Ligeia, the narrator, horrified, encounters another reawakening of the corpse. This time, however, the corpse moves from its deathbed and advances, shrouded, into the middle of the apartment. Aghast, the narrator mysteriously questions the identity of the corpse. Though he feels it must be the lady Rowena, he notices the body has grown taller. Glancing from her feet to her head, the narrator discovers raven-black hair emerging from behind the shroud—it is the lady Ligeia standing in the bridal chamber.
An unnamed narrator approaches the house of Usher on a "dull, dark, and soundless day." This house—the estate of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher—is gloomy and mysterious. The narrator observes that the house seems to have absorbed an evil and diseased atmosphere from the decaying trees and murky ponds around it. He notes that although the house is decaying in places—individual stones are disintegrating, for example—the structure itself is fairly solid. There is only a small crack from the roof to the ground in the front of the building. He has come to the house because his friend Roderick sent him a letter earnestly requesting his company. Roderick wrote that he was feeling physically and emotionally ill, so the narrator is rushing to his assistance. The narrator mentions that the Usher family, though an ancient clan, has never flourished. Only one member of the Usher family has survived from generation to generation, thereby forming a direct line of descent without any outside branches. The Usher family has become so identified with its estate that the peasantry confuses the inhabitants with their home.
The narrator finds the inside of the house just as spooky as the outside. He makes his way through the long passages to the room where Roderick is waiting. He notes that Roderick is paler and less energetic than he once was. Roderick tells the narrator that he suffers from nerves and fear and that his senses are heightened. The narrator also notes that Roderick seems afraid of his own house. Roderick's sister, Madeline, has taken ill with a mysterious sickness—perhaps catalepsy, the loss of control of one's limbs—that the doctors cannot reverse. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick. He listens to Roderick play the guitar and make up words for his songs, and he reads him stories, but he cannot lift Roderick's spirit. Soon, Roderick posits his theory that the house itself is unhealthy, just as the narrator supposes at the beginning of the story.
Madeline soon dies, and Roderick decides to bury her temporarily in the tombs below the house. He wants to keep her in the house because he fears that the doctors might dig up her body for scientific examination, since her disease was so strange to them. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. The narrator also realizes suddenly that Roderick and Madeline were twins. Over the next few days, Roderick becomes even more uneasy. One night, the narrator cannot sleep either. Roderick knocks on his door, apparently hysterical. He leads the narrator to the window, from which they see a bright-looking gas surrounding the house. The narrator tells Roderick that the gas is a natural phenomenon, not altogether uncommon.
The narrator decides to read to Roderick in order to pass the night away. He reads "Mad Trist" by Sir Launcelot Canning, a medieval romance. As he reads, he hears noises that correspond to the descriptions in the story. At first, he ignores these sounds as the vagaries of his imagination. Soon, however, they become more distinct and he can no longer ignore them. He also notices that Roderick has slumped over in his chair and is muttering to himself. The narrator approaches Roderick and listens to what he is saying. Roderick reveals that he has been hearing these sounds for days, and believes that they have buried Madeline alive and that she is trying to escape. He yells that she is standing behind the door. The wind blows open the door and confirms Roderick's fears: Madeline stands in white robes bloodied from her struggle. She attacks Roderick as the life drains from her, and he dies of fear. The narrator flees the house. As he escapes, the entire house cracks along the break in the frame and crumbles to the ground.
In a small room in Paris, an unnamed narrator, who also narrates "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," sits quietly with his friend, C. Auguste Dupin. He ponders the murders in the Rue Morgue, which Dupin solved in that story. Monsieur G——, the prefect of the Paris police, arrives, having decided to consult Dupin again. The prefect presents a case that is almost too simple: a letter has been taken from the royal apartments. The police know who has taken it: the Minister D——, an important government official. According to the prefect, a young lady possessed the letter, which contains information that could harm a powerful individual. When the young lady was first reading the letter, the man whom it concerned came into the royal apartments. Not wanting to arouse his suspicion, she put it down on a table next to her. The sinister Minister D—— then walked in and noted the letter's contents. Quickly grasping the seriousness of the situation, he produced a letter of his own that resembled the important letter. He left his own letter next to the original one as he began to talk of Parisian affairs. Finally, as he prepared to leave the apartment, he purposely retrieved the lady's letter in place of his own. Now, the prefect explains, the Minister D—— possesses a great deal of power over the lady.
Dupin asks whether the police have searched the Minister's residence, arguing that since the power of the letter derives from its being readily available, it must be in his apartment. The prefect responds that they have searched the Minister's residence but have not located the letter. He recounts the search procedure, during which the police systematically searched every inch of the hotel. In addition, the letter could not be hidden on the Minister's body because the police have searched him as well. The prefect mentions that he is willing to search long and hard because the reward offered in the case is so generous. Upon Dupin's request, the prefect reads him a physical description of the letter. Dupin suggests that the police search again.
One month later, Dupin and the narrator are again sitting together when the prefect visits. The prefect admits that he cannot find the letter, even though the reward has increased. The prefect says that he will pay 50,000 francs to anyone who obtains the letter for him. Dupin tells him to write a check for that amount on the spot. Upon receipt of the check, Dupin hands over the letter. The prefect rushes off to return it to its rightful owner, and Dupin explains how he obtained the letter.
Dupin admits that the police are skilled investigators according to their own principles. He explains this remark by describing a young boy playing "even and odd." In this game, each player must guess whether the number of things (usually toys) held by another player is even or odd. If the guesser is right, he gets one of the toys. If he is wrong, he loses a toy of his own. The boy whom Dupin describes plays the game well because he bases his guesses on the knowledge of his opponent. When he faces difficulty, he imitates the facial expression of his opponent, as though to understand what he thinks and feels. With this knowledge, he often guesses correctly. Dupin argues that the Paris police do not use this strategy and therefore could not find the letter: the police think only to look for a letter in places where they themselves might hide it.
Dupin argues that the Minister D—— is intelligent enough not to hide the letter in the nooks and crannies of his apartment—exactly where the police first investigate. He describes to the narrator a game of puzzles in which one player finds a name on a map and tells the other player to find it as well. Amateurs, says Dupin, pick the names with the smallest letters. According to Dupin's logic, the hardest names to find are actually those that stretch broadly across the map because they are so obvious.
With this game in mind, Dupin recounts the visit he made to the Minister's apartment. After surveying the Minister's residence, Dupin notices a group of visiting cards hanging from the mantelpiece. A letter accompanies them. It has a different exterior than that previously described by the prefect, but Dupin also observes that the letter appears to have been folded back on itself. He becomes sure that it is the stolen document. In order to create a reason for returning to the apartment, he purposely leaves behind his snuffbox. When he goes back the next morning to retrieve it, he also arranges for someone to make a commotion outside the window while he is in the apartment. When the Minister rushes to the window to investigate the noise, Dupin replaces the stolen letter with a fake. He justifies his decision to leave behind another letter by predicting that the Minister will embarrass himself when he acts in reliance upon the letter he falsely believes he still possesses. Dupin remarks that the Minister once wronged him in Vienna and that he has pledged not to forget the insult. Inside the fake letter, then, Dupin inscribes, a French poem that translates into English, "So baneful a scheme, if not worthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes."
The narrator of "Bartleby the Scrivener" is the Lawyer, who runs a law practice on Wall Street in New York. The Lawyer begins by noting that he is an "elderly man," and that his profession has brought him "into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men the law-copyists, or scriveners." While the Lawyer knows many interesting stories of such scriveners, he bypasses them all in favor of telling the story of Bartleby, whom he finds to be the most interesting of all the scriveners. Bartleby is, according to the Lawyer, "one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and, in his case, those were very small."
Before introducing Bartleby, the Lawyer describes the other scriveners working in his office at this time. The first is Turkey, a man who is about the same age as the Lawyer (around sixty). Turkey has been causing problems lately. He is an excellent scrivener in the morning, but as the day wears on—particularly in the afternoon—he becomes more prone to making mistakes, dropping ink plots on the copies he writes. He also becomes more flushed, with an ill temper, in the afternoon. The Lawyer tries to help both himself and Turkey by asking Turkey only to work in the mornings, but Turkey argues with him, so the Lawyer simply gives him less important documents in the afternoon.
The second worker is Nippers, who is much younger and more ambitious than Turkey. At twenty-five years old, he is a comical opposite to Turkey, because he has trouble working in the morning. Until lunchtime, he suffers from stomach trouble, and constantly adjusts the height of the legs on his desk, trying to get them perfectly balanced. In the afternoons, he is calmer and works steadily.
The last employee—not a scrivener, but an errand-boy—is Ginger Nut. His nickname comes from the fact that Turkey and Nippers often send him to pick up ginger nut cakes for them.
The Lawyer spends some time describing the habits of these men and then introduces Bartleby. Bartleby comes to the office to answer an ad placed by the Lawyer, who at that time needed more help. The Lawyer hires Bartleby and gives him a space in the office. At first, Bartleby seems to be an excellent worker. He writes day and night, often by no more than candlelight. His output is enormous, and he greatly pleases the Lawyer.
One day, the Lawyer has a small document he needs examined. He calls Bartleby in to do the job, but Bartleby responds: "I would prefer not to." This answer amazes the Lawyer, who has a "natural expectancy of instant compliance." He is so amazed by this response, and the calm way Bartleby says it, that he cannot even bring himself to scold Bartleby. Instead, he calls in Nippers to examine the document instead.
The story begins in the home of an artist, who paints portraits and illustrates books. A wealthy-looking couple comes to meet him, and the narrator assumes that they want their portrait painted together. They reveal that they want to work for him, as models for his illustrations, for meager pay since they have fallen upon harsh times. The artist agrees and the story follows their strange interactions as nobles employed by someone socially beneath them.
Eventually, the illustrator is disappointed because the "real thing" can not be found in his aristocratic models. Even though they are true gentlepeople, speaking about high art, fashion and hobbies, they are unable to be transformed into good cartoons. He explains, "When I drew the Monarchs I couldn't, somehow, get away from them--get into the character I wanted to represent; and I had not the least desire my model should be discoverable in my picture. Miss Churm never was, and Mrs. Monarch thought I hid her, very properly, because she was vulgar; whereas if she was lost it was only as the dead who go to heaven are lost--in the gain of an angel the more."
Their use as models starts to ruin the artist's work and he is forced to decide whether the "real" or "fake" nobles make the best models.
When John Oakhurst steps into the main street of Poker Flat on the morning of Nov. 23, 1850, conversations stop and eyes stare. He's a villain, after all, one of several who had earned that designation.
.......After losing several thousand dollars, two horses, and a worthy citizen, the townspeople had established a secret committee which saw to the hanging of two persons and the banishment of others, including women. A few of the committee members urged hanging Oakhurst as well, then rifling his pockets for their gambling losses.
......."It's agin justice," said Jim Wheeler, "to let this yer young man from Roaring Camp-an entire stranger-carry away our money."
.......However, cooler heads ruled that Oakhurst deserved only banishment. Armed men accompany Oakhurst and other undesirables-including "The Duchess" and "Mother Shipton," both prostitutes, and "Uncle Billy," a drunk suspected of sluice robbery-to the edge of town. (In gold mining, a sluice is a sloping trough, or gutter, that conveys water containing stones, pebbles, sand, and possibly gold. Grooves on its bottom separate gold from the stones and grit). There, the armed men warn the outcasts not to return to Poker Flat under penalty of death.
.......On their way into exile, Uncle Billy and the women bitterly bemoan their fate while Oakhurst remains quiet. They head for Sandy Bar, a day's travel away over steep mountains. The road is narrow and the air dry and cold in the foothills of the mountains. They plod on until noon, when the Duchess declares she can go no farther. Oakhurst wants to go on lest the party run out of provisions. However, his fellow travelers stay put, using liquor to comfort them. Uncle Billy goes into a stupor, the Duchess becomes tearfully emotional, and Mother Shipton falls asleep. Oakhurst does not drink. As a gambler, he had cultivated the habit of staying sober.
.......While observing his surroundings-the mountains, the pine trees, the cloudy sky, the valley below-he sees a horseman coming toward him. It is young Tom Simson, from whom Oakhurst had once won $40 in Sandy Bar. Oakhurst had returned the money saying, "Tommy, you're a good little man, but you can't gamble worth a cent. Don't try it over again." Because of that magnanimous gesture, Tom admires Oakhurst as something of a god.
.......When Tom greets Oakhurst, he tells him a little about himself. He had decided to leave Sandy Bar and go to Poker Flat, he says, with his sweetheart, Piney Woods, to make his fortune and marry Piney. Her father, Jake Woods, had opposed the marriage, so they had no alternative but to run away. Piney, who is plumply attractive, rides up just then--demure and embarrassed and innocent--from behind a pine tree. Uncle Billy is about to say something untoward when Oakhurst kicks him.
.......Anyway, it seems young Tom and Piney want to join Oakhurst and his company of outcasts, but Oakhurst-who doesn't want them tagging along-points out that they have no provisions and no place to stay. However, Tom says he has a pack mule loaded with supplies. He also found an abandonedlog house nearby. It is a roofless ruin, but it does have walls.
......."Piney can stay with Mrs. Oakhurst," the youth says. He thinks the Duchess is Oakhurst's wife.
.......Uncle Billy is about to laugh but remembers Oakhurst's foot. So he walks off up the canyon, out of hearing range, then does his laughing. When he returns, everybody is sitting by a fire talking. At that moment, an idea pops into his alcoholic brain, causing him so much amusement that he shoves a fist into his mouth to stifle a laugh.
.......That night, the women sleep in the cabin and the men near the fire. Just before dawn, Oakhurst awakens and sees snow. Uncle Billy is gone. So are all the animals. Fortunately, though, all the supplies had been placed in the cabin.
.......At first light, the snow is coming down hard and further travel is out of the question. Oakhurst tells Tom that Uncle Billy must have gotten up in the night and spooked the mules, then ran off after them. No sense frightening the young people, he thinks. But the Duchess and Mother Shipton realize what had happened-thieving Billy took them.
.......Tom immediately offers to share his supplies and seems to look forward to the time all of them will be spending together."We'll have a good camp for a week," he says, "and then the snow'll melt . . ."
.......In the evening, everyone is cheerful. As they sit around the fire, they sing songs. Piney manages to force tunes from Tom's accordion while he raps two bone castanets. The storm stops at midnight and the skies open to glittering stars. Tom and Oakhurst take turns keeping watch, but the latter does most of the watching. He's used to going without sleep because of his frequent all-night poker games.
.......The next day, huge snowdrifts surround the cabin. In the distance, miles away, smoke curls up from Poker flat. Mother Shipton curses the town. She then sets herself to the task of amusing Piney. After another day, they all sit again at the fire. However, the music begins to lose its magic as the food supply dwindles and hunger creeps into their stomachs. Piney proposes that they tell stories. Oakhurst, the Duchess, and Mother Shipton are less than enthusiastic about this idea, but Tom takes to it, noting that he had recently read Alexander Pope's rendition of Homer's ancient Greek classic, The Iliad. So they listen as the youth recites portions of the tale and mangles the pronunciation of names. He pronounces the name of famous Greek hero Achilles as "Ash-heels."
.......A week passes and snow falls again. Eventually, the drifts around the cabin reach twenty feet. The fire is harder and harder to maintain because wood is less plentiful. But no one complains, although Mother Shipton is sick and failing fast.
.......At midnight on the tenth day, Mother Shipton-now in a very bad way-tells Oakhurst to open a bundle under her head and give the food in it to Tom and Piney. When Oakhurst opens it, he discovers a full week of rations. She had been saving her food for the young people. Mother Shipton then turns away and dies. They place her body in the snow.
.......At daylight, Oakhurst reveals a pair of snowshoes he made out of a pack saddle, then tells Tom to use them to reach Poker Flat. It's the only way to save his sweetheart, he says. Oakhurst says he will walk out a little way with Tom, then return. Before leaving, he kisses the Duchess, which amazes her.
.......At nightfall, there is no sign of Oakhurst. It is snowing again. While the Duchess tends the fire, she notices that someone had piled wood next to the fire-enough to keep it going a good while longer. Tears well in her eyes, but she doesn't let Piney see them. The snow, meanwhile, continues through the next day and into the evening. The women now realize the end is near. In the morning, they lack the strength to keep the fire going, and it slowly dies.
......."Piney, can you pray?" the Duchess says.
.......The Duchess puts her head on Piney's shoulder and they fall asleep. They sleep the rest of the day and into the next. Then voices and footsteps break the silence around the cabin and a hand brushes snow from the faces of the two women. The narrator says, "You could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them, which was she that sinned. Even the law of Poker Flat recognized this, and turned away, leaving them still locked in each other's arms."
.......On a nearby pine tree is a knife stuck through the two of clubs. On the card is a message written in pencil:
BENEATH THIS TREE
LIES THE BODY
WHO STRUCK A STREAK OF BAD LUCK
ON THE 23D OF NOVEMBER, 1850,
HANDED IN HIS CHECKS
ON THE 7TH DECEMBER, 1850.
.......At his side is a Derringer, which had put a bullet through his heart. He had been "the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat."
The narrator of the story is asked by a friend to call on old Simon Wheeler and ask about his friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley. The narrator now suspects that his friend never knew anybody named Leonidas W. Smiley, and that this was the pretext to get Wheeler to tell him about another guy named Jim Smiley. It turns out that Wheeler is a boring man who talks ad nauseam.
The narrator begins to narrate the story of his meeting with Wheeler.
The narrator finds Simon Wheeler taking a nap in a bar at a mining town called Angel's Camp. Wheeler is pudgy and bald and looks simple and gentle. So far, so good.
The narrator tells Wheeler he's trying to find out some information about the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley who was once a resident at Angel's Camp.
Simon Wheeler backs the narrator into a corner and traps him there. Throughout his tale, the narrator says, Simon maintained the utmost gravity, as if his story was the most important thing. Yet, the narrator says, it was an absurd story.
Wheeler admits that he doesn't know a Leonidas Smiley, but one time there was a "feller" named Jim Smiley in '49 or maybe it was '50.
Here begins Wheeler's story within the narrator's story.
Jim Smiley is the sort of man who will bet on anything. If he suggests a bet and the person doesn't want to take it, he offers to bet on the other side. He just wants to bet, that's all. But he's lucky and almost always wins the bet. He bets on dog fights or horse races or even on the minister, Parson Walker. One time, Parson Walker's wife was really sick, and Smiley bet that she wouldn't get well. Clearly the guy doesn't have the best social graces.
Smiley had a mare that the boys liked to call the "fifteen-minute nag." She seemed really old and slow, and she had asthma. She'd get a head start, then amble along until the end of the race, when she'd suddenly start bolting ahead like crazy, wheezing, until she would win, but barely.
He also had a small "bull pup" named Andrew Jackson that didn't look like it could do anything, but as soon as somebody bet on him, he'd manage to beat any better-looking dog in a fight. He had a trick of catching the other dog's back leg in his mouth with a tight grip until the fight was over, and he'd won. This worked until Andrew Jackson ended up in a fight with a dog that didn't have back legs. Not knowing what to do, he gave Smiley a look like his heart was broken, then crawled away and died.
(It was too bad, Wheeler comments. A dog like that probably had some "genius" in him - he hadn't had opportunities in life, and here he managed to come out on top. He must've had talent.)
So one day, Smiley catches a frog and takes it home, saying he plans to educate the animal. For then next three months, he does nothing but sit in his backyard and "teach" that frog to jump. He gets the frog to jump so well that it looks like a doughnut whirling in the air - then the frog comes down "flat-footed" like a cat. Smiley teaches the frog to catch flies, to the point that the frog just needs to be able to see the fly and it's his.
The frog's name? Dan'l Webster. The frog is "modest and straight-forward" despite his many gifts. When he's on level ground, he can jump higher than any frog you could ever see - that is his specialty, it's important to understand that.
Smiley keeps Dan'l Webster in a box and every once in a while, he fetches the frog down for a bet.
One day, a stranger in the camp asks what's in the box. Smiley grins and says it might be a parrot or a canary but actually, it's just a frog.
The stranger eyes him and asks what the frog is good for.
Smiley says he's good for one thing: he can outjump any frog in Calaveras County.
That so, says the stranger. He looks at the frog, then says he doesn't see anything about the frog that makes him so special.
Well, maybe you understand frogs and maybe you don't, says Smiley. But I'll bet forty dollars that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras County.
So the man thinks about it, then says that if he had a frog, he'd bet against Smiley.
Smiley offers to go get him a frog. He gives the other man the box and goes to get a frog.
The stranger sits there with the box and waits. Soon, he gets Dan'l out, opens the frog's mouth, and begins to fill him full of quail shot. Then he sets him on the floor. Smiley comes back from the swamp with a frog and gives him to the stranger.
They set the frogs side by side, and Smiley says, "One two three jump!"
The stranger's frog jumps. Dan'l tries to heave upwards but can't budge.
Smiley is surprised, and a little "disgusted," but he gives the stranger his money.
The stranger starts to leave and, just to rub it in, he repeats what he said earlier - that he doesn't see anything special about Dan'l that should distinguish him from any other frog.
Smiley scratches his head and stares down at Dan'l. Finally, he wonders aloud what the matter is. He picks Dan'l up and exclaims that he weights five pounds! He turns Dan'l upside down, and Dan'l belches out the quail shot.
Smiley gets mad as hell. He runs out to catch the stranger, but the stranger has already gotten away.
Here Wheeler's story ends.
Wheeler hears his name called from the front yard and goes to see what's up. He tells the narrator to sit and wait, he'll only be gone a moment.
The narrator is pretty certain that he's not going to find out anything about the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, so he starts to leave.
At the door, he meets Wheeler, who starts back up with his story, telling the narrator about Smiley's yellow one-eyed cow that didn't have a tail and—
The narrator interrupts, saying, oh-so-good-naturedly, that he basically doesn't give a hoot about Jim Smiley or his cow.
He says goodbye to Simon Wheeler and leaves.
Madame Valmondé visits L'Abri to see Désirée and her new baby, and on the way, she reminisces about when Désirée was herself a baby. Monsieur had found her asleep at the gateway of Valmondé, and when Désirée awoke, she could do little but cry for "Dada." People believe that a passing band of Texans had abandoned her, but Madame Valmondé believes only that Providence sent her this beautiful, gentle, and affectionate child because she lacked children of her own.
When Armand Aubigny saw Désirée standing next to the stone pillar of the gateway eighteen years later, he fell in love with her immediately, although he had known her for years since first arriving from Paris after his mother's death. Monsieur Valmondé wanted to ensure that Désirée's unknown origin was carefully considered, but Armand did not care because he was so much in love. He decided that if she did not have a family name, then he would give her his own, and soon they were married.
Madame Valmondé has not seen the baby for a month, and she shudders when she visits L'Abri because the place looks so sad without a woman to oversee the Aubigny household. Armand's mother had loved France too much to leave the country and had lived and died in France, and no woman has since taken over. Meanwhile, Armand is strict with his workers, and L'Abri has lost its easygoing nature.
When Madame Valmondé sees Désirée lying beside her baby, she is startled to see the baby's appearance. Speaking in French, Désirée laughs that he has indeed grown strangely, and she remarks on his hearty cries. However, Madame Valmondé observes the child more closely and uneasily asks about Armand's thoughts. Désirée proudly says that Armand is glad to have a son and that he has softened considerably in his treatment of the slaves since his marriage and the child's birth. Armand is by nature imperious and exacting, but she loves him desperately, and he has not frowned since he fell in love with her.
When the baby is three months old, Désirée is suddenly disturbed by a subtle feeling of menace, which is marked by a general air of mystery, unannounced visits from neighbors, and a strange change in her husband's behavior. He begins to avoid her and treat his slaves badly, and Désirée feels miserable. One afternoon, as she sits in her room, she looks at her son and at one of the one-fourth black children, who is fanning her son. The similarity between them dawns upon her, and she tells the other child to leave.
Frightened, she watches her child until Armand enters. She asks him about the child and asks what it means, and he responds coldly that if the child is not white, then she must not be white. Desperately, she responds that she is indeed white, with brown hair, gray eyes, and white skin, but he cruelly tells her that she is as white as their mixed-race slave La Blanche, and he leaves the room.
Despairing, Désirée writes to Madame Valmondé, who tells Désirée that she still loves her daughter and that Désirée should come back to Valmondé with the child. Désirée presents Madame Valmondé's response to Armand, and he tells her to leave. Without changing, Désirée takes her son from the nurse and walks not to Valmondé but to the deserted bayou, where she disappears. Weeks later, at L'Abri, Armand is having his slaves feed a bonfire. He places a willow cradle and other remnants of his marriage to Désirée on the pyre, and the last object to burn is a bundle of letters. Among the letters is an unrelated letter that came from the same drawer, which was sent from his mother to his father. In the letter, which Armand reads, his mother thanks his father for their love and thanks God that Armand will never learn that his mother has mixed blood.`
The narrator begins her journal by marveling at the grandeur of the house and grounds her husband has taken for their summer vacation. She describes it in romantic terms as an aristocratic estate or even a haunted house and wonders how they were able to afford it, and why the house had been empty for so long. Her feeling that there is "something queer" about the situation leads her into a discussion of her illness—she is suffering from "nervous depression"—and of her marriage. She complains that her husband John, who is also her doctor, belittles both her illness and her thoughts and concerns in general. She contrasts his practical, rationalistic manner with her own imaginative, sensitive ways. Her treatment requires that she do almost nothing active, and she is especially forbidden from working and writing. She feels that activity, freedom, and interesting work would help her condition and reveals that she has begun her secret journal in order to "relieve her mind." In an attempt to do so, the narrator begins describing the house. Her description is mostly positive, but disturbing elements such as the "rings and things" in the bedroom walls, and the bars on the windows, keep showing up. She is particularly disturbed by the yellow wallpaper in the bedroom, with its strange, formless pattern, and describes it as "revolting." Soon, however, her thoughts are interrupted by John's approach, and she is forced to stop writing.
As the first few weeks of the summer pass, the narrator becomes good at hiding her journal, and thus hiding her true thoughts from John. She continues to long for more stimulating company and activity, and she complains again about John's patronizing, controlling ways—although she immediately returns to the wallpaper, which begins to seem not only ugly, but oddly menacing. She mentions that John is worried about her becoming fixated on it, and that he has even refused to repaper the room so as not to give in to her neurotic worries. The narrator's imagination, however, has been aroused. She mentions that she enjoys picturing people on the walkways around the house and that John always discourages such fantasies. She also thinks back to her childhood, when she was able to work herself into a terror by imagining things in the dark. As she describes the bedroom, which she says must have been a nursery for young children, she points out that the paper is torn off the wall in spots, there are scratches and gouges in the floor, and the furniture is heavy and fixed in place. Just as she begins to see a strange sub-pattern behind the main design of the wallpaper, her writing is interrupted again, this time by John's sister, Jennie, who is acting as housekeeper and nurse for the narrator.
As the Fourth of July passes, the narrator reports that her family has just visited, leaving her more tired than ever. John threatens to send her to Weir Mitchell, the real-life physician under whose care Gilman had a nervous breakdown. The narrator is alone most of the time and says that she has become almost fond of the wallpaper and that attempting to figure out its pattern has become her primary entertainment. As her obsession grows, the sub-pattern of the wallpaper becomes clearer. It begins to resemble a woman "stooping down and creeping" behind the main pattern, which looks like the bars of a cage. Whenever the narrator tries to discuss leaving the house, John makes light of her concerns, effectively silencing her. Each time he does so, her disgusted fascination with the paper grows.
Soon the wallpaper dominates the narrator's imagination. She becomes possessive and secretive, hiding her interest in the paper and making sure no one else examines it so that she can "find it out" on her own. At one point, she startles Jennie, who had been touching the wallpaper and who mentions that she had found yellow stains on their clothes. Mistaking the narrator's fixation for tranquility, John thinks she is improving. But she sleeps less and less and is convinced that she can smell the paper all over the house, even outside. She discovers a strange smudge mark on the paper, running all around the room, as if it had been rubbed by someone crawling against the wall.
The sub-pattern now clearly resembles a woman who is trying to get out from behind the main pattern. The narrator sees her shaking the bars at night and creeping around during the day, when the woman is able to escape briefly. The narrator mentions that she, too, creeps around at times. She suspects that John and Jennie are aware of her obsession, and she resolves to destroy the paper once and for all, peeling much of it off during the night. The next day she manages to be alone and goes into something of a frenzy, biting and tearing at the paper in order to free the trapped woman, whom she sees struggling from inside the pattern.
By the end, the narrator is hopelessly insane, convinced that there are many creeping women around and that she herself has come out of the wallpaper—that she herself is the trapped woman. She creeps endlessly around the room, smudging the wallpaper as she goes. When John breaks into the locked room and sees the full horror of the situation, he faints in the doorway, so that the narrator has "to creep over him every time!"
In the twentieth century, we are all too familiar with the horror of war. We see it emblazoned on our television and movie screens; we see its effects in the psychological trauma of returning veterans. This is in stark contrast to the traditional view that war is a glorious enterprise which would make boys into men and confer honor upon both them and their loved ones. Completely overlooked was the fact that it could just as easily make boys into corpses and confer horrific memories on those who survived. However, some voices of pacifism have made themselves heard throughout past eras, and one of these belonged to William Dean Howells. In his story 'Editha,' war is shown to be dehumanizing and traumatic -- the complete opposite of glorious.
The title character of Howells' story is a young girl who believes that her boyfriend is not a real 'man' unless he goes to fight for his country. The fact that George does not seem to take anything very seriously infuriates Editha, and she virtually bullies him into enlisting in the army when war is declared. He is among the first wave of soldiers killed, and Editha quite properly wears black out of respect (but with a great deal of pride, also), and goes to visit George's mother.
Mrs. Gearson lashes out at Editha, telling her, 'I suppose you would have been glad to die, such a brave person as you! I don't believe he was glad to die. He was always a timid boy, that way; he was afraid of a good many things; but if he was afraid he did what he made up his mind to. I suppose he made up his mind to go, but I knew what it cost him by what it cost me when I heard of it. I had been through one war before. When you sent him you didn't expect he would get killed.'
No, Editha hadn't. No one ever expects the glorious soldiers to come back the glorious dead. But Mrs. Gearson isn't through: 'You just expected him to kill someone else, some of those foreigners, that weren't there because they had any say about it, but because they had to be there, poor wretches -- conscripts, or whatever they call 'em. You thought it would be all right for my George, your George, to kill the sons of those miserable mothers and the husbands of those girls that you would never see the faces of.' The woman lifted her powerful voice in a psalmlike note. 'I thank my God he didn't live to do it! I thank my God they killed him first, and that he ain't livin' with their blood on his hands!''
This is strong stuff; it is much more the type of writing we would expect from the Vietnam War era, rather than the end of the Victorian era. It is not surprising that Editha doesn't get it; she ends the story by going to have her portrait painted in her lovely mourning outfit, and commenting that George's mother must be insane. She personally has never seen the brutality, the complete horror, of war; she has never experienced the terror of fearing for her life at every moment, of watching people blown up only inches away. She can still think it's romantic because she hasn't been t
Two American women, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade, get up from their table and stroll over to the parapet to look down upon the glorious view of of Rome. They hear their respective daughters, Barbara and Jenny, giggling at the bottom of the stairs, preparing to go socialize. The two older women contemplate the scene quietly and serenely. They decide that they will remain in their position throughout the afternoon because the view is so beautiful.
Mrs. Slade thinks to herself that her friend is old-fashioned, and asks Mrs. Ansley if she remembers how they came to Rome when they were even younger than their daughters. Mrs. Ansley assents, and the two wonder if their girls will go off with the Italian aviators that they are courting.
Mrs. Slade muses to herself about how little she and Mrs. Ansley actually know about one other. They met when they were children, and both of them grew into beautiful young women. In her youth, Mrs. Ansley was much more beautiful than her daughter Barbara is now. Mrs. Slade thinks of Mrs. Ansley and her (late) husband as "museum specimens of old new York" (6).
After marrying, Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley lived near each other. Years later, they both became widows around the same time, left to raise daughters who are also similar in age. Mrs. Slade considers herself to be worse off after losing her husband, because being the wife of Mr. Delphin Slade was an honor and a prominent social role. People would always refer to Mrs. Slade as the beautiful wife of the famous lawyer. Now, she only has her daughter, Jenny, who is pretty but also quite safe and respectable. Mrs. Slade has a hidden desire to see her daughter do something adventurous, like have a torrid affair. Mrs. Ansley, meanwhile, observes her friend's apparent sadness, and pities her a bit.
The women sit in silence, which is rather unusual. Even though they have known each other for years, they have never the opportunity to sit together quietly. This serene situation elevates the intimacy between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley. Mrs. Slade ponders aloud how Rome has always symbolized something different for everyone. For their grandmothers, the city represented Roman Fever, for their mothers, the city was filled danger, and for their daughters, Rome represents freedom. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley muse that their own mothers had a hard time keeping their daughters inside, since both women were so young, vibrant, and eager to explore.
Mrs. Ansley knits while they talk and Mrs. Slade is impressed that she can keep her stitches straight while engaged in conversation. Her thoughts stray to Barbara's likelihood of ensnaring the Italian aviator and thinks of poor Jenny, acting as a mere enabler for her friend's romantic aspirations. When Mrs. Ansley asks Mrs. Slade what she is thinking about, Mrs. Slade shares this image, and then marvels that Mrs. Ansley and her late husband, Horace, were able to produce a girl as dynamic as Barbara. Remaining still and expressionless, Mrs. Ansley calls Mrs. Slade's assessment of Barbara overly complimentary. Mrs. Slade tells Mrs. Ansley companionably that she wishes she had a brilliant daughter instead of an angelic one.
Silence resumes. Mrs. Ansley knits and tells herself she has nothing to worry about. Mrs. Slade chides herself and says she should not be envious of Mrs. Ansley. Mrs. Slade stands up and walks to the edge of the parapet, watching the sunset. Mrs. Slade asks her companion if she is afraid of Roman Fever, and the other woman laughs and says no. Mrs. Slade asks about Mrs. Ansley's great-aunt who purposefully sent her younger sister out at night to gather flowers during the epidemic. According to her old story, Mrs. Ansley's great-aunt and her sister were in love with the same man and the great-aunt sent her sister out hoping she would catch Roman Fever, hoping to seduce the man herself. Mrs. Slade laughs at the story and says that she knows Mrs. Ansley only used to tell it to frighten her. Confused, Mrs. Ansley denies that fear was her intent.
Mrs. Slade continues, talking about how difficult it once was to get inside the Colosseum and yet, lovers almost always tried to sneak in to have their trysts there. Mrs. Slade asks Mrs. Ansley if she knew about this ritual and Mrs. Ansley replies, "I -I daresay. I don't remember" (14). Mrs. Slade presses on, asking her friend if she remembers going out one night and catching a chill. Mrs. Ansley again claims not to recall but she is clearly hiding something.
Suddenly Mrs. Slade bursts out that she cannot bear it any longer, and says that she knows Mrs. Ansley once went out to meet Delphin Slade when he was already engaged to her. Mrs. Ansley, unsteadily standing, tries to stop Mrs. Slade from continuing, but Mrs. Slade recites the contents of the letter that Delphin sent to Mrs. Ansley one night, asking her to meet him.
Mrs. Ansley's face belies her internal struggle. She finally says she burnt that letter and wonders out loud how Mrs. Slade knows the contents of the letter by heart. Mrs. Slade calmly admits that she is the one who wrote the letter. Mrs. Ansley drops into her chair and tears form in her eyes. She says it was the only letter she had from Delphin and she had cherished it. Mrs. Slade asks cruelly if she happened to remember that she was engaged to Delphin while their affair was going on. Mrs. Ansley admits that she did indeed go to meet Delphin that night per the letter that Mrs. Slade sent.
Mrs. Slade feels her wrath subside, and suddenly does not know why she is trying to wound her friend. She has to justify herself, though, and says that when she found out that Mrs. Ansley was in love with Delphin, Mrs. Slade saw the other woman's sweetness as a threat. She wanted Mrs. Ansley to get out of the way and wrote the false letter in a rage. She wonders aloud if her friend thinks she is a monster, and Mrs. Ansley says she does not know, and that even though the letter was not from Delphin, she still "care[s] for that memory" (17).
Mrs. Slade pities her friend for cherishing the false letter for so many years. She gloats, reminding Mrs. Ansley that she was the one who ended up married to Delphin. She then explains that she did not mean to hurt Mrs. Ansley by telling her the truth, but thought she would be amused. Besides, she explains, Mrs. Ansley had married Horace so soon after, which seemed to reveal that whatever she had with Delphin was fleeting.
The stars are coming out and night envelops the women. The hotel staff are getting ready for dinner. Mrs. Slade finally says, after a loaded silence, that she wrote the letter as a joke and was amused with the idea of Mrs. Ansley trying to get into the Colosseum at night and finding herself alone.
Mrs. Ansley replies that Delphin actually did meet her at the Colosseum that evening. Mrs. Slade is shocked and accuses Mrs. Ansley of lying. However, with a clear voice, Mrs. Ansley assures Mrs. Slade that she did see Delphin that night because she sent a reply to the false letter. Astonished, Mrs. Slade admits that she never considered what might happen if Mrs. Ansley replied.
Mrs. Ansley stands, saying it is cold and they better go, and she feels sorry for her friend. Mrs. Slade mutters her disbelief that her friend should feel sorry for her. Mrs. Ansley says it is because she did not have to wait that night and despite Mrs. Slade's tricks, she did meet Delphin. Mrs. Slade agrees with a short laugh, but strikes back that she had Delphin for twenty five years and Mrs. Ansley had nothing to remind her of Delphin except for a letter that he did not actually write.
Mrs. Ansley turns to walk away and says, "I had Barbara" (20).
It is just before dawn, and not far off the coast of Florida, between the open sea and the surf, are four men in a dinghy. The ship on which they were sailing sank overnight, and they are the only survivors, left to bob up and down in the waves until their bathtub-sized boat capsizes and they too drown. They do not have a moment's peace. The ocean is so rough that one indelicate move will upset the dinghy and send them into the winter waters. Each man, despite not having slept for two days, works tirelessly to keep the boat afloat. The correspondent and the oiler share the work of rowing, while the cook huddles on the floor of the dinghy, bailing water. These men take their direction from the captain, who was injured during the shipwreck and sits grimly in the bow, the memory still fresh of his ship engulfed in the sea and the crew's dead faces in the water.
As day breaks and the cook and correspondent bicker about being rescued, the men begin to make progress toward the shore. Fighting hopelessness, they row silently. Gulls fly overhead and perch on the water. The gulls are at ease on the ocean, so much so that one lands on the captain's head. The men see this as a sinister, insulting gesture, but the captain cannot swat the bird off because the sudden movement would likely topple the boat.
Eventually, the captain shoos the bird away, and they go on rowing until the captain sees a lighthouse in the distance. Although the cook expresses reservation that the nearby lifesaving station has been abandoned for more than a year, the crew heartens at approaching land, almost taking pleasure in the brotherhood that they have formed and in attending to the business of the sea. The correspondent even finds four dry cigars in a pocket, which he shares with the others.
The men's optimism evaporates when, approaching land yet unable to master the turbulent surf, they realize that help isn't coming. They again make for the open sea, exhausted and bitter. Another sign of hope comes when the captain sees a man on shore. Each crew member looks for signs of hope in the man's gestures. They think the man sees them. Then they think they see two men, then a crowd and perhaps a boat being rolled down to the shore. They stubbornly think that help is on the way as the shadows lengthen and the sea and sky turn black.
During the night, the men forget about being saved and attend to the business of the boat. The correspondent and oiler, exhausted from rowing, plan to alternate throughout the night. But they get tired in the early hours of the morning, and the cook helps out. For the most part, the correspondent rows alone, wondering how he can have come so far if he is only going to drown. Rowing through phosphorescence and alongside a monstrous shark, the correspondent thinks of a poem he learned in childhood about a soldier dying in a distant land, never to return home.
When morning comes, the captain suggests that they try to run the surf while they still have enough energy. They take the boat shoreward until it capsizes, and then they all make a break for it in the icy water. The oiler leads the group, while the cook and correspondent swim more slowly and the captain holds onto the keel of the overturned dinghy. With the help of a life preserver, the correspondent makes good progress, until he is caught in a current that forces him to back to the boat. Before he can reach the dinghy, a wave hurls him to shallower water, where he is saved by a man who has appeared on shore and plunged into the sea to save the crew. On land, the correspondent drifts in and out of consciousness, but as he regains his senses, he sees a large number of people on the shore with rescue gear. He learns that the captain and cook have been saved but the oiler has died.
The first paragraph indicates that the story will be told as an anecdote by the narrator, Quentin Compson, who is now twenty-four. He describes how fifteen years before, black women would do laundry on Monday mornings. Nancy would carry the laundry on her head as she stooped through the fence, and her husband, Jesus, never helped her by delivering the clothes to the Compson house.
Quentin remembers how he and his siblings would go fetch Nancy to tell her to cook breakfast for them, but stop at the ditch because their father had warned them to stay away from Jesus. In one case, Nancy came to the door naked, and tells them she is going back to sleep. Jason accuses her of being drunk. But later Quentin reports that, according to the jailor who found her trying to hang herself in prison, that it's not whisky but cocaine that affects Nancy's behavior.
She was in prison for accosting Mr. Stovall on the street and demanding to be paid for her sexual services. He kicks her in the mouth with his heel, knocking out several of her teeth. In jail, she made noise all night, then tried to hang herself from the window bars with her dress. From Quentin's relation of the jailer's story, the reader can assume that she was suicidal because of her pregnancy; "her belly already swelling out a little, like a little balloon."
The children observe Nancy's pregnant belly while she cooks for them, and Quentin relates a conversation between Nancy and Jesus in the Compson's kitchen, in which it is made clear through the euphemism of a watermelon that Nancy is pregnant with another man's child, and that Jesus intends to kill whomever that man is.
After dinner, Quentin's parents send him to find Nancy to see if she is finished with the dishes. He finds her in the kitchen, and she says, "I ain't nothing but a ******... It ain't none of my fault." Quentin doesn't respond, but goes back to the library to tell his family that she is still there. The reader learns through the following conversation between Quentin and Caddy that Jesus is gone, and that Nancy has said, "Done gone to Memphis, I reckon. Dodging them city po-lice for a while, I reckon." Jason claims that Nancy is afraid of the dark, and Caddy calls him a "scairy cat."
The narrator's father, Jason Compson III, returns from the kitchen and announces that he is going to walk Nancy home; his wife reacts in disbelief, asking "Is her safety more precious to you than mine?" But he goes anyway, and the children accompany him. As they walk down the lane, Father asks Nancy if Aunt Rachel can do anything to help the situation with Jesus, but Nancy replies that nothing can be done. Father responds, "If you'd just let white men alone... if you'd behave yourself, you'd have kept out of this." Meanwhile, the children tease each other about being afraid of the dark.
Summary of Part II
The Compsons continue walking Nancy home each night, then make a bed for her in the kitchen. Then one night the children hear Nancy making a sound that was "not singing and it was not crying." They creep downstairs, and they hear Father coming down the back stairs to investigate with his pistol. Then he comes back upstairs with Nancy's pallet, and puts it in the children's room. They talk to her, and Caddy tries to get information out of her, like whether it was Jesus who tried to come in the kitchen. Nancy doesn't answer their questions, but repeats, "I ain't nothing but a ******."
When Dilsey is well, she cooks dinner again for the Compsons. In the kitchen, Nancy tells Dilsey how afraid she is that Jesus is back, and Dilsey gives her some coffee to drink.
Summary of Part III
Now Nancy drinks the coffee, but ends up spilling it all over herself because she begins to make the same sound. She says "Won't no ****** stop him," in reference to Jesus; then she looks at the children and seems to come to the conclusion that only the presence of white people will stop her murderous husband. She asks them to ask their mother to let her stay in their room again, but when Caddy asks, Caroline Compson replies, "I can't have Negroes sleeping in the bedrooms." Then the children observe their parents having a conversation about whether or not the officers of the town could protect Nancy; when Jason Compson III says the officers couldn't do anything, Caroline complains that she pays taxes for seemingly ineffectual police.
The children report back to Nancy, and she drops the cup of coffee onto the kitchen floor. Caddy keeps asking her what Jesus will do to her, but Nancy doesn't respond. Instead she tries to convince them to come back with her to her house, where they can "have some more fun." She tells them not to ask their mother, and Caddy reasons, "She didn't say we couldn't go." Jason is finally convinced to come along by Caddy, who teases him for being afraid. They all walk down the lane, and Nancy addresses them by name, very loudly. The reader can assume it is to warn Jesus, if he is lurking in the dark, that she is accompanied by white children. She calls Jason "Mr. Jason," to imply that he is in fact his father.
They arrive at Nancy's house, and are immediately bothered by the smell. Jason complains that he doesn't want to stay, and continues to do so pretty consistently throughout the scene. Nancy builds a huge fire, and begins to tell them a story.
Summary of Part IV
When Nancy stops talking, Jason says it wasn't a good story and again declares that he wants to go home. This time, Caddy agrees with him, but Nancy tells them not to open the door. She lures them back to the fire, saying she'll tell another story. She has her hand on the lamp chimney, and doesn't seem to notice its heat until Caddy points it out. Then she suggests making popcorn, and tells Jason he can hold the popper. But when she retrieves it from under the bed, the popper is broken; she uses some wire to fix it, while Jason and Caddy continue to complain that they want to go home. The lamp is beginning to smoke, but Nancy doesn't seem to mind. When Jason gets the smoke in his eyes, he drops the popper into the fire and begins to cry.
The popcorn is all burned up, but there isn't any left to pop. Pathetically, Nancy begins to try to save some grains from the burned popcorn. Then they hear something outside, and Nancy becomes filled with fear; she begins to make that sound again. Caddy looks out the door and announces that their father is approaching. Nancy begs them to tell him that they want to stay, or that she should come home with them. But Jason declares, "I didn't have fun. You hurt me. You put smoke in my eyes. I'm going to tell."
Summary of Part V
Father arrives, and reports that Jesus could not be outside, or he would have seen him. Nancy insists that Jesus is waiting in the ditch, but Father continues to try to convince her otherwise; he suggests locking up her house and going to Aunt Rachel's. When he suggests putting out the lamp and going to bed, Nancy says she is "scared for it to happen in the dark." Father gathers up the children to leave, and Nancy warns, "When yawl go home, I gone." She comforts herself that at least she has her "coffin money" saved up with Mr. Lovelady, who collects insurance. Father continues to assure her that her fears are "nonsense."
Summary of Part VI
The Compsons leave Nancy "sitting by the fire." She ignores Father's instructions to put the bar up on the door, and does not look at them again. As they walk back to their house, Caddy asks her father about Jesus, but he assures her, "He's not there. He went away a long time ago." They can no longer see Nancy, but they can hear her making that sound. Jason repeats what he has observed earlier, "I'm not a ****." The story ends with Caddy and Jason bickering about whether Jason would be "scairder than a ****" if something were to jump out of the ditch.
Nick arrives fresh off the train at Seney, a former town that has been burned to the ground. There's pretty much nothing left of it anymore.
He sees the river and watches the trout holding themselves on the bottom.
As he watches the trout, Nick feels his heart tighten.
Nick gets his heavy pack and, feeling happy, hikes into the burned countryside. He uses the river to guide him.
Eventually he sits down to rest and smoke a cigarette. A black grasshopper climbs up his sock, and Nick realizes that all the grasshoppers are black because they've been living in and among burnt country. He tells the grasshopper to fly away (yes, he talks to the grasshopper).
Nick hikes for a while and then lies down in the shade. He falls asleep. When he wakes up the sun is going down and he hikes the mile toward the river.
When he gets there, he finds a level piece of ground and makes camp, pitching his tent and hanging up his pack like a good camper.
Dinner consists of a can of spaghetti and a can of pork and beans (yum!) cooked over the fire with some bread. Nick knows it's too hot to eat but eats it anyways and does the thing where you have to open your mouth so you don't burn your tongue.
Next on the menu is the coffee and dessert course. Making the coffee makes Nick think about someone named Hopkins. He opens a can of apricots and eats them as the coffee boils.
As he drinks, Nick reminisces about Hopkins, who made coffee in a particular way. Hopkins was a super rich guy and seemed to have been good friends with Nick (they went on a trip together), but afterward he never saw Hopkins again.
Nick laughs as he drinks his Hopkins-style coffee, but then he starts to feel his mind working and wants to stop it. So he climbs into his tent for bed.
Before he falls asleep Nick hears a mosquito buzzing in his tent. He kills it with a match and then falls asleep. Sweet dreams?
The next morning, Nick gets up with the sun. He's super excited to hit the river, but first he catches a bottle full of grasshoppers for bait in a nearby meadow.
Nick's breakfast of champions consists of some pancakes. He gets some lunch together, downs his coffee, and congratulates himself on a camp well made.
Next it's time to get all the fishing gear together. Nick straps everything on and is all ready to go.
In the river, Nick opens his bottle of grasshoppers. One poor bloke jumps out and into the river, where he is immediately eaten by a trout. Nick pulls out a second one and puts him on his hook.
There's a tug on the line and Nick pulls in a trout, but he puts it back in the stream. He's careful not to touch the trout with a dry hand because that causes a fungus to grow on them. Thinking about how he'd seen dead trout with the fungus when he'd fished crowded rivers (gross), Nick thinks that it's better to fish alone.
Nick doesn't want to waste his time with small fry: he wants the real thing. So he wades deeper into the river.
He re-baits his hook and feels something big and heavy tug on it. Nick has to let the line run out because the rod might break. He sees the trout leap out of the water, and it's huge. But it ends up being too big: the leader breaks and Nick loses it.
Nick is strangely agitated after he loses the fish, and he climbs onto the bank to smoke a cigarette.
Once he calms down, he re-baits his hook and wades into a shallow part of the river, near an uprooted elm tree. Nick hooks a fish there and brings him in. He puts the live fish in a bag that hangs in the water.
Next Nick heads for the banks, where the trout would be resting in the shade (because trout like shade, too). There is a beech tree where there would certainly be fish, but Nick is worried about getting hooked in the branches.
Nick casts a line into the shadows of a tree, and a fish bites, but then the line is caught and the fish gets away. Oh well.
Then Nick sees a hollow log, and he casts his line into it. He hooks a fish and, just when he thinks he's lost him, he draws him against the current and catches him in his net.
Now Nick has two trout in his bag, and two are plenty. He pulls himself onto the log and eats lunch.
Ahead the river runs into a swamp dense with trees and low branches. Nick doesn't feel like going into the swamp, not liking how deep and impossible and sad the fishing would be in a place like that.
Instead, Nick kills and guts the two trout he has and washes them in the stream, where they look as though they are still alive.
Leaving the river, Nick knows that there will be plenty of days ahead when he can fish in the swamp.
begins with Charlie Wales, an American expatriate who has returned in 1930 to Paris, the site of much drinking and partying on his part during the 1920s. Since the stock market crash of 1929, Charlie has sobered up and now looks with a combination of amazement and disgust at the extravagant lifestyle he lived.
Charlie's first visit in Paris is to the Ritz bar he used to frequent in his wild days. He asks after many of his former party-friends but finds that Paris is largely empty compared to several years earlier. He leaves an address with the barman to give to friend named Duncan Schaeffer. Since Charlie hasn't settled on a hotel yet, he leaves the address of his brother-in-law's house. He then wanders through Paris and sees all the hotspots he used to frequent during the extravagant days of the twenties. Everything looks different to him now that he's sober and doesn't have the money he used to.
As the story progresses, we learn that Charlie is back in town to try to regain custody of his daughter Honoria, who is currently staying with his sister-in-law and her husband. Charlie's deceased wife Helen died a little over a year ago from heart trouble. At the time, Charlie was in a sanatorium having suffered a collapse. Though we don't get all the details, we see that Charlie was, perhaps among other things, recovering from alcoholism. Now he only has one drink per day, so that the idea of alcohol doesn't get too big in his mind.
We learn that Charlie has a pretty bad relationship with his sister-in-law, Marion Peters, who blames him for her sister Helen's death. She is resistant to the idea of allowing him to take Honoria home with him, but Charlie eventually wins her over with his patience and insistence that he is reformed. They make plans for him to leave shortly with Honoria.
Meanwhile, two of Charlie's old party friends, Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles, who are still living the drunken lifestyle, have been trying to get him to go out drinking with them. Charlie resists, as he's left behind the wild days of running around Paris drunk. On the night when Charlie is at the Peters' finalizing plans to take Honoria home, Lorraine and Duncan show up, drunk, begging him to come out with them. Marion sees that Charlie is still associating with the party crowd, and so she goes back on her offer to let him take his daughter back. Charlie is baffled as to how Duncan and Lorraine found him, and either doesn't remember or refuses to acknowledge that he left the Peters' address for Duncan at the Ritz bar.
Charlie leaves the Peters' house and returns to the Ritz bar, where he has his one drink for the day and refuses to have a second one. He plans to try and get Honoria back again, perhaps six months from now when Marion has calmed down. He wonders how long he'll have to pay for the destructive lifestyle he used to live.
The grandmother tries to convince her son, Bailey, and his wife to take the family to east Tennessee for vacation instead of Florida. She points out an article about the Misfit, an escaped convict heading toward Florida, and adds that the children have already been there. John Wesley, eight years old, suggests that the grandmother stay home, and his sister, June Star, says nastily that his grandmother would never do that.
On the day of the trip, the grandmother hides her cat, Pitty Sing, in a basket in the car. She wears a dress and hat with flowers on it so that people will know she is "a lady" if there's an accident. In the car, John Wesley says he doesn't like Georgia, and the grandmother chastises him for not respecting his home state. When they pass a cotton field, she says there are graves in the middle of it that belonged to the plantation and jokes that the plantation has "Gone with the Wind." Later, she tells a story about an old suitor, Edgar Atkins Teagarden. Edgar brought her a watermelon every week, into which he carved his initials, E. A. T. Once he left it on the porch and a black child ate it because he thought it said eat.
The family stops at a restaurant called the Tower, owned by Red Sammy Butts. Red Sammy complains that people are untrustworthy, explaining that he recently let two men buy gasoline on credit. The grandmother tells him he's a good man for doing it. Red Sam's wife says she doesn't trust anyone, including Red Sam. The grandmother asks her if she's heard about the Misfit, and the woman worries that he'll rob them. Red Sam says, "A good man is hard to find." He and the grandmother lament the state of the world.
Back in the car, the grandmother wakes from a nap and realizes that a plantation she once visited is nearby. She says that the house had six white columns and was at the end of an oak tree-lined driveway. She lies that the house had a secret panel to make the house seem more interesting. Excited, the children beg to go to the house until Bailey angrily gives in. The grandmother points him to a dirt road.
The family drives deep into the woods. The grandmother suddenly remembers that the house was in Tennessee, not in Georgia. Horrified at her mistake, she jerks her feet. Pitty Sing escapes from the basket and startles Bailey, who wrecks the car. The children's mother breaks her shoulder, but no one else is hurt. The grandmother decides not to tell Bailey about her mistake.
A passing car stops, and three men get out, carrying guns. The grandmother thinks she recognizes one of them. One of the men, wearing glasses and no shirt, descends into the ditch. He tells the children's mother to make the children sit down because they make him nervous. The grandmother suddenly screams because she realizes that he's the Misfit. The man says it's not good that she recognized him. Bailey curses violently, upsetting the grandmother. The grandmother asks the Misfit whether he'd shoot a lady, and the Misfit says he wouldn't like to. The grandmother claims that she can tell he's a good man and that he comes from "nice people." The Misfit agrees and praises his parents.
The grandmother continues telling him he's a good man. The Misfit tells the other two men, Hiram and Bobby Lee, to take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods. The grandmother adjusts her hat, but the brim breaks off. The Misfit says he knows he isn't good but that he isn't the worst man either. He apologizes to the grandmother and the children's mother for not wearing a shirt and says that he and the other men had to bury their clothes after they escaped. He says they borrowed the clothes they're wearing from some people they met.
The grandmother asks the Misfit whether he ever prays. Just as he says no, she hears two gunshots. The Misfit says he used to be a gospel singer, and the grandmother chants, "pray, pray." He says he wasn't a bad child but that at one point he went to prison for a crime he can't remember committing. He says a psychiatrist told him he'd killed his father. The grandmother tells the Misfit to pray so that Jesus will help him. The Misfit says he's fine on his own.
Bobby Lee and Hiram come back from the woods, and Bobby Lee gives the Misfit the shirt Bailey had been wearing, but the grandmother doesn't realize it's Bailey's. The Misfit tells the children's mother to take the baby and June Star and go with Bobby Lee and Hiram into the woods. Bobby Lee tries to hold June Star's hand, but she says he looks like a pig.
The grandmother starts chanting, "Jesus, Jesus." The Misfit says he's like Jesus, except Jesus hadn't committed a crime. He says he gave himself this name because his punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime people said he committed. A gunshot comes from the woods. The grandmother begs the Misfit not to shoot a lady. Two more gunshots come from the woods, and the grandmother cries out for Bailey.
The Misfit says that Jesus confused everything by raising the dead. He says that if what Jesus did is true, then everyone must follow him. But if he didn't actually raise the dead, then all anyone can do is enjoy their time on earth by indulging in "meanness." The grandmother agrees that perhaps Jesus didn't raise the dead. The Misfit says he wishes he had been there so he could know for sure. The grandmother calls the Misfit "one of my own children," and the Misfit shoots her in the chest three times.
Bobby Lee and Hiram return, and they all look at the grandmother. The Misfit observes that the grandmother could have been a good woman if someone had been around "to shoot her every minute of her life." The Misfit says life has no true pleasure.
The play on words and society is endless in Welty's story "The Petrified Man." The story centers around beauty shop conversation in a small southern town in Mississippi. Leota is the hair dresser tugging at Mrs. Fletcher's hair. Mrs. Fletcher is newly pregnant and loves to gossip judgment on others. While Leota is treating Mrs. Fletcher's hair with poisonous chemicals she is also offering her poisonous tidbits about a new woman in town. Mrs. Fletcher is upset that Leota has told Mrs. Pike, whom she doesn't even know, that she is pregnant. As the gossip ensues Mrs. Fletcher becomes jealous of Mrs. Pike. Mrs. Fletcher is in an unhappy marriage to a man that is very close to a bum, by her description. And Mrs. Pike's husband is older, a nice dresser, and is to come into money. Leota and Mrs. Pike attended the "freak show" at the carnival one night. Leota was quite taken by a "petrified man", who could stiffen like a statue. Mrs. Pike preferred the pygmies, tiny men. Mrs. Fletcher declares, "I despise freaks (Welty, 39)." By the end of the story the "petrified man" is realized to be wanted and worth five hundred dollars for raping four women in California.
The only male presence in the story is the young son of Mrs. Pike underfoot at the beauty shop. The story ends with the boy getting a sound paddling from Mrs. Fletcher for stealing old peanuts and he exclaims, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich (59)?" The real freak show is at the beauty shop. Every personality in the story is a moral freak of one kind or another. Mrs. Fletcher works through her unhappy life by being jealous and judgmental of others. Leota spends her days offering low doses of poison in hairdos and gossip to her clients. And the petrified man is in reality not scared or stiff at all, but a psychopath violently attacking woman sexually. The only voice of reason in the story then becomes the boy at the end, who has not yet been damaged by this society of women.
After a hard day at work, seventeen-year-old Dave heads across the fields for home, still thinking about a conflict he'd had with some other field hands that day. He vows to someday own a gun and get the respect he deserves, and he wants to prove to the others that he is no longer a child. He decides to head to the local store to examine the guns offered in a mail-order catalog, hoping that his mother will let him buy a pistol with the money he earns working in Mr. Hawkins's fields.
Entering the store, Dave feels his confidence drain from him when he sees Joe, the shopkeeper, but he manages to convince Joe to lend him the catalog overnight. Joe is surprised that Dave is thinking of buying a gun, especially because he knows that Dave's mother saves all his summer earnings. He nevertheless offers to sell Dave an old pistol he has on hand for $2. His interest piqued, Dave says he will come back for it later.
At home, Mrs. Saunders chides Dave for being late, and Dave tells her he was visiting his friends. On his way out to wash his hands, Mrs. Saunders notices the catalog and seizes it, giving it back when Dave explains he has to return it the next day. During supper, Dave is too engrossed in the catalog to eat or notice the arrival of his father and younger brother. Admiring the revolvers, he chokes down his dinner, knowing that he should ask his mother for the money instead of his father.
Dave finally works up enough courage after dinner to broach the subject, first asking his mother whether Mr. Hawkins has paid her for his time working in the fields. Mrs. Saunders responds that the money is solely for his school clothes and immediately dismisses the idea of buying a gun. Dave pleads his case, arguing that the family needs a gun and that he'll give it to Mr. Saunders. Still not fully convinced, Mrs. Saunders finally gives Dave the $2 on the condition that he bring the gun directly to her after buying it.
After buying the pistol, Dave walks around the fields with it, admiring the gun but too scared and unsure of how to fire it. He waits until it's dark and he's sure everyone has already fallen asleep before going home, and he puts the gun underneath his pillow instead of giving it to his mother as he'd promised. Mrs. Saunders approaches him in the middle of the night and quietly asks for the gun, but Dave tells her that he stashed it outside and will give it to her in the morning.
When he wakes up, Dave removes the gun and holds it in his hands, realizing that he now has the power to kill someone. He quietly gets out of bed and ties the pistol to his leg with an old strip of flannel. He then heads out to the fields where he works, and he accidentally runs into his boss, Mr. Hawkins. Surprised but not wanting to give away his secret, Dave tells Mr. Hawkins that he just wanted to get a head start on the day's work. He hitches the plow to a mule named Jenny and heads to the field farthest away so that he can fire the pistol without anyone noticing.
After holding and admiring the gun, Dave finally works up the courage to actually pull the trigger. He doesn't take proper aim, however, and accidentally shoots Jenny. Dave panics and desperately tries to stop the bleeding by plugging the wound with dirt, but Jenny soon dies. Sickened and frightened, he buries the gun at the base of tree and heads across the field, trying to concoct a believable story to explain Jenny's death to Mr. Hawkins.
Someone eventually finds Jenny, and a small group gathers around her body. When pressed, Dave lies and says that Jenny had been startled and fell on the point of the plow. Unconvinced, Mrs. Saunders urges him to tell the truth and then quietly asks about the gun when no one else is listening. Meanwhile, someone comments that Jenny's wound looks like a bullet hole. Crying and realizing that he has to tell the truth, Dave confesses. Mr. Saunders is shocked to hear about the pistol and Mrs. Saunders's complicity.
Mr. Hawkins tells Dave that he'll have to pay $50 for the mule even though her death had been an accident. He then tells Mr. Saunders that he'll take $2 out of Dave's pay each month until the debt has been paid. When Mr. Saunders asks Dave where he put the gun, however, Dave lies again and says that he threw it into the creek. His father tells him to retrieve it, get his $2 back from Joe, and give them to Mr. Hawkins as his first payment.
Unable to sleep that night, Dave skulks out to retrieve the gun. Cleaning it off, he forces himself to shoot it without closing his eyes and turning his head away as he'd done before. He fires the gun four times until there are no more bullets left. Putting the gun in his pocket, he heads across the field until he comes to Mr. Hawkins's large white house. If he had one more bullet, he muses, he would fire at the house to let Mr. Hawkins know that he is really a man. Dave then hears the sound of a train in the distance. Gun in hand, he heads for the tracks and hops into a moving boxcar as the train continues on into the night.`
opens up with the description of a house, surrounded by what is described as "a Negro yard around a Negro house in a Negro settlement. But there was something happy about that place." The characters are first introduced when Missie May awaits her husband, Joe, who is returning from work on a pay day, where he comes home and tosses silver dollars through the front door for Missie May to pick up. Like always, she pretends to be mad that he is throwing the money and playfully chases him, then goes through his pockets to find a little present that he has bought her.
That night, with the silver dollars placed next to Missie May's plate during dinner, Joe tells her that he is going to take her out to a new ice cream parlor opened by a new rich black man in town from Chicago, who goes by the name of Otis D. Slemmons. To many people in the community, Slemmons is seen as a charismatic and wealthy black man. Joe discusses Mr. Slemmons' fine clothes, all the while Missie May seems to be unimpressed, suggesting that he might be lying about his wealth and success, and stated "Aw, he don't look no better in his clothes than you do in yourn. He got a puzzlegut on 'im and he so chickle-headed, he got a pone behind his neck," which is implying that there is no other man that can be better nor look better than Joe. Joe still believes that Slemmons is still a great man and decides to take Missie May to the ice cream parlor so he can show his beautiful wife off in hopes of meeting Mr. Slemmons.
At the ice cream parlor, Missie May still shows that she is not impressed by the man but shows some keen interest in his wealth. After returning home Joe tells Missie May that although he may not have money like Slemmons, he'd rather be broke as long as he has her. Every week, they make their visit to the ice cream parlor. It's not until one night that Joe gets off work early the test of love is finally revealed. Joe arrives home to find Slemmons in the bed alongside Missie May. Missie May pleads and apologizes to Joe by revealing that the only reason she slept with Slemmons was to get money from him. Joe shows anger by attacking Slemmons, but after he leaves he shows no more signs of anger. The next morning, Joe treats the day as if it was just an ordinary day and asks Missie May why she is not eating breakfast. Missie May cannot understand why Joe does not leave her, but he continues to torture her by carrying around the golden coin Slemmons left behind to symbolize the affair.
Days go by and the couple slowly drifts away until Joe comes home complaining of aches and pains. He asks Missie May to give him a massage and that night they end up sleeping together for the first time in a long time. When Joe gets up that morning, he leaves behind Slemmon's coin, in his attempt to torture her, by paying her for her services. When Missie May examines the coin, she realizes that it is nothing but a gilded half dollar. She realizes that Slemmons was not a rich man after all, but a liar and a fake. At that point, Missie May feels ashamed and embarrassed by throwing all of the happiness away for something that seemed too good to be true.
A few weeks after this event, Missie May finds out that she is pregnant and Joe is not concerned whether the baby is his or not. Fortunately at the end of the story, the baby is born, and after some convincing by his mother, Joe accepts the baby as his. Joe is truly happy and takes the gilded coin to the candy shop to buy his wife some chocolates. That night when he returns home, he continues the tradition between the two, by tossing the silver half dollars to Missie May to symbolize the happiness that is again within the house, and for the first time in a while, they are finally a happy couple again.
Mama decides that she will wait in the yard for her daughter Dee's arrival. Mama knows that her other daughter, Maggie, will be nervous throughout Dee's stay, self-conscious of her scars and burn marks and jealous of Dee's much easier life. Mama fantasizes about reunion scenes on television programs in which a successful daughter embraces the parents who have made her success possible. Sometimes Mama imagines reuniting with Dee in a similar scenario, in a television studio where an amiable host brings out a tearful Dee, who pins orchids on Mama's dress. Whereas Mama is sheepish about the thought of looking a white man in the eye, Dee is more assertive. Mama's musing is interrupted by Maggie's shuffling arrival in the yard. Mama remembers the house fire that happened more than a decade ago, when she carried Maggie, badly burned, out of the house. Dee watched the flames engulf the house she despised.
Back then, Mama believed that Dee hated Maggie, until Mama and the community raised enough money to send Dee to school in Augusta. Mama resented the intimidating world of ideas and education that Dee forced on her family on her trips home. Mama never went to school beyond second grade. Maggie can read only in a limited capacity. Mama looks forward to Maggie's marriage to John Thomas, after which Mama can peacefully relax and sing hymns at home.
When Dee arrives, Mama grips Maggie to prevent her from running back into the house. Dee emerges from the car with her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Mama disapproves of the strange man's presence and is equally disapproving of Dee's dress and appearance. Hakim-a-barber greets and tries to hug Maggie, who recoils.
Dee gets a camera from the car and takes a few pictures of Mama and Maggie in front of their house. She then puts the camera on the backseat and kisses Mama on the forehead, as Hakim-a-barber awkwardly tries to shake Maggie's hand. Dee tells her mother that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to protest being named after the people who have oppressed her. Mama tells Dee that she was in fact named after her Aunt Dicie, who was named after Grandma Dee, who bore the name of her mother as well. Mama struggles with the pronunciation of Dee's new African name. Dee says she doesn't have to use the new name, but Mama learns to say it, although she is unable to master Hakim's name. Mama says that he must be related to the Muslims who live down the road and tend beef cattle and also greet people by saying "Asalamalakim." Hakim-a-barber says he accepts some of their doctrines but is not into farming or herding.
Mama wonders whether Hakim-a-barber and Dee are married. Sitting down to eat, Hakim-a-barber states that he does not eat collard greens or pork. Dee, however, eats heartily, delighted by the fact that the family still uses the benches her father made. Hopping up, she approaches the butter churn in the corner and asks Mama if she can have its top, which had been carved by Uncle Buddy. Dee wants the dasher too, a device with blades used to make butter. Hakim-a-barber asks if Uncle Buddy whittled the "dash" as well, to which Maggie replies that it was Aunt Dee's first husband, Stash, who made it. Dee praises Maggie's memory and wraps the items. Mama grips the handle of the dasher, examining the ruts and worn areas made by her relative's hands.
Dee ransacks the trunk at the foot of Mama's bed, reappearing with two quilts made by her mother, aunt, and grandmother. The quilts contain small pieces of garments worn by relatives all the way back to the Civil War. Dee asks her mother for the quilts. Mama hears Maggie drop something in the kitchen and then slam the door. Mama suggests that Dee take other quilts, but Dee insists, wanting the ones hand-stitched by her grandmother. Mama gets up and tries to tell Dee more about the garments used to make the quilts, but Dee steps out of reach. Mama reveals that she had promised Maggie the quilts. Dee gasps, arguing that Maggie won't appreciate the quilts and isn't smart enough to preserve them. But Mama hopes that Maggie does, indeed, designate the quilts for everyday use.
Dee says that the priceless quilts will be destroyed. Mama says that Maggie knows how to quilt and can make more. Maggie shuffles in and, trying to make peace, offers Dee the quilts. When Mama looks at Maggie, she is struck by a strange feeling, similar to the spirit she feels sometimes in church. Impulsively, she hugs Maggie, pulls her into the room, snatches the quilts out of Dee's hands, and places them in Maggie's lap. She tells Dee to take one or two of the other quilts. As Dee and Hakim-a-barber leave, Dee informs Mama that Mama does not understand her own heritage. Kissing Maggie, Dee tells her to try and improve herself and that it's a new day for black Americans. Mama and Maggie watch the car drive off, then sit in the quiet of the yard until bedtime.
The story is marginally structured as a report of a battle between troops led partly by the narrator and a band of "Comanches" and their ghetto-dwelling sympathizers. Between accounts of the fighting and of the torture of a captured Comanche are the narrator's disjointed observations, conversations with Sylvia (his most recent lover, apparently), yearning for an unidentified "you," and encounters with a plain, rather stern schoolteacher, Miss R. When he decides that he knows nothing, the narrator goes to Miss R for instruction, who says she reveres only the "hard, brown, nutlike word," Miss R alternates between berating the narrator and addressing him in fond endearments. Meanwhile Sylvia betrays the narrator by joining the Indians in their uprising. At the end of the story, the narrator and his friends Block and Kenneth are attacked by their enemies, with whom, the reader learns, Miss R is actually allied. She orders the narrator to remove his belt and shoelaces, suggesting that he may now be tortured by his captors. The story is set in late spring 1945, after the end of military operations in Europe. The first-person narrator, Sergeant Nathan Marx, is rotated from Germany to a training company at Camp Crowder, Missouri. He served in infantry in the European theatre of operations for two years.
The first evening in the camp, Marx is approached by the nineteen-year-old trainee Sheldon Grossbart. Grossbart concluded from Marx's name that Marx is Jewish like him. He complains about the cleaning of the barracks which takes place on Friday nights when Jews are supposed to be in the synagogue. Trainees are allowed to attend services whenever they are held but Grossbart complains that other trainees accuse him of running away from work. Marx does not like the mood of intimacy that Grossbart forces on him on grounds of their shared faith but he considers the matter.
The next day Marx issues a public announcement which explicitly reminds the trainees that they are allowed to attend the Jewish service. Grossbart comes to thank him and to introduce his fellow Jewish trainees Larry Fishbein, aged nineteen, and the timid Mickey Halpern, aged eighteen. The three attend the service and so does Marx. Grossbart and Fishbein do not pay much attention to the chaplain, only Halpern responds in prayer.
A week later Captain Paul Barrett, Marx's commanding officer, calls Marx to explain a letter from Grossbart's father to Congressman Franconi. The letter complains of the food in the training camp which is inconsistent with Jewish dietary practices. Trainee Grossbart allegedly throws up each meal. Barrett and Marx drive to the shooting range to confront Grossbart. Barrett appeals to Grossbart, pointing out the example of Marx who did much more for the Jews by killing the Germans than Grossbart by throwing up a sausage.
When they are alone, Grossbart admits that the letter was actually about Mickey who has problems with the food. Marx discovers that Grossbart's parents do not speak English and Grossbart confesses that he wrote the letter himself. Two days later an eloquently styled letter is forwarded from the Congressman, in which Grossbart's father informs that the problem has been solved with assistance of Marx. An attached communique informs General Lyman that Sergeant Marx is a credit to the U.S. army and to the Jewish people.
Grossbart disappears from Marx's life for some time but then he arrives in his office to ask a favour. He wants a pass which would allow him to join his aunt in St Louis for a dinner on the occasion of a Jewish feast. Marx refuses to grant Grossbart any special treatment. Grossbart is to leave the camp anyway, on which Marx signs the pass after all. A while later Grossbart brings also Fishbein and Halpern and asks for passes also for them. Marx has himself persuaded how much it would mean for the boys and signs the passes for all the three.
The next night Grossbart comes to ask if Marx happens to know anything about their orders. He presses for sympathy and describes how Halpern cries and how it would help him to know where they will be sent. Marx does not want to fight and argue with him, so he tells him that they will go to the Pacific. Grossbart asks if Marx could not do something to change the orders, but it is not possible. Grossbart promised to bring Marx a piece of fish from the feast but he gives him a Chinese egg roll. He makes up an excuse but Marx realizes that he has been tricked.
A week later orders come. All the trainees will be sent to the Pacific but for Grossbart who will go to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Marx realizes that Grossbart found another fellow Jew who must have helped him. Marx uses his influence and changes the orders so that Grossbart will go the Pacific with others. Grossbart accuses him of being an anti-Semite. Marx assures him that he will be all right, even in the Pacific, and he really thinks that Grossbart's manipulative skills will keep him safe.
The story interweaves two main themes, the Jewishness and the Second World War. It focuses on the conflict between two strong characters, Marx and Grossbart, who are both Jews involved in the war but who assume contrasting approaches to their religious and military life. Marx suppresses his emotions and hardens himself both against feelings of compassion with the victims of war and feelings of triumph when he, as a Jew, marches through the defeated Germany. Grossbart calculates to evoke emotions in people and exploits both his religion and his fellow trainees to achieve his selfish aims.
The story also explores the concept of Messiah in the context of the war. Captain Barrett admires Marx as a hero who fought against the Nazis and defended the Jews. In this sense, Marx might be perceived as a Messiah, the saviour of his people, though he is just one of many Jewish soldiers participating in the war. Grossbart accuses Marx of acting like a Messiah when he learns that he sent him to the Pacific. Marx's final action against Grossbart may be read in several ways: as a revenge on the trainee who cheated him, as an attempt to restore equal conditions for all the trainees, or even as an attempt to protect Halpern and Fishbein by sending them out together with their inventive and world-wise friend.
We're introduced to the unnamed narrator in the opening lines of the story as he explains how he read a story in the newspaper about someone he knew. We don't know who this is yet, or what the story is about, but it affects the narrator so deeply that he sees the story "in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and body of the people" (1).
At first the narrator doesn't want to believe what he's read, and he tries to convince himself that the story isn't true. But deep down he knows that it is, and this scares him. This is when we hear Sonny's name the first time, when the narrator says that, he was scared, scared for Sonny" (2).
The narrator reads the story on his way to a high school, and we find out that he's an algebra teacher. All day long as he teaches his classes, the story about Sonny sticks with him and creates a "great block of ice" (2) in his stomach that won't go away. At times the narrator feels like the ice is melting, but when he remembers "some specific thing Sonny had once done or said" (2), the icy feeling comes back. So, even though we don't know who Sonny is yet, or what's happened to him, we can at least tell that he and the narrator have some history.
The narrator thinks back to when Sonny was the age of the students in his algebra classes, and he remembers his "bright and open" face (3), his "wonderfully direct brown eyes" (3), and his "great gentleness and privacy" (3). As he wonders what Sonny's face is like now, we learn what the newspaper story is about: Sonny, the narrator's younger brother, has been arrested for selling and using heroin.
Apparently the narrator had suspected that Sonny was dabbling in drugs, but he tried to ignore his suspicions. He told himself that "Sonny was wild, but he wasn't crazy. And he'd always been a good boy" (4), even though he was raised in a tough Harlem neighborhood.
The narrator always thought Sonny had so much potential and promise, and he didn't want to think about the possibility of all of that going to waste. As he stands in front of his class, he realizes that any one of these high school boys might be shooting up heroin in the bathroom during break. He's pretty sure Sonny was about their age the first time he used heroin.
The day is pretty rough for the narrator and it drags on forever. When classes finally let out, he decides he should probably get home and talk to his wife, Isabel, about Sonny. By the time he leaves, the school is almost empty. But he sees a young man who looks so much like Sonny that he starts to call out to his brother until he realizes that it's an old friend of Sonny's (someone the narrator never really liked). Apparently this guy is always high and always asking for money, and even though he's an adult now, he still hangs around the school.
In an instant, the narrator goes from not liking this guy to really hating him (maybe because he makes him think of Sonny). The guy (whose name we never learn) sort of skulks over to the narrator and asks him if he's heard the news about Sonny.
The two chat for a little bit, but the narrator wants to go home (and away from this guy), so he tries to make some excuse about needing to get to the subway. The guy doesn't get the hint and tags along with the narrator.
He asks the narrator what he plans to do about Sonny, and the narrator tells him he can't really do anything. We learn that he hasn't seen his brother in over a year and he hasn't decided that he wants to do anything for Sonny. (This sounds pretty harsh, but maybe the narrator is still trying to process the news about his brother.)
Sonny's friend tells the narrator that he's kind of surprised by Sonny's arrest. He always thought Sonny "was too smart to get hung" (21) on drugs (just like the narrator). Then he tells the narrator that he thinks he might have had something to do with Sonny's drug habit.
This revelation interests the narrator, so he finally stops to really listen to the guy. It seems Sonny's friend never gave him any drugs, but when he was high at school one day, Sonny asked him how it felt to shoot heroin. He told him that "it felt great" (27), so he thinks he may have unintentionally encouraged Sonny to try drugs.
The narrator quickly decides that he doesn't want to hear this - he doesn't want to know what might have started Sonny's habit and he doesn't want to know what it's like to do hard drugs. But he does want to know what might happen to Sonny at this point, so he asks Sonny's friend. The answer doesn't make him feel much better.
The guy tells the narrator that Sonny will most likely be released and will get sent to rehab. Then they'll tell him he's cured and send him on his way, and he'll just start using drugs again. He tells the narrator that this will be "rough on old Sonny" (41) (it's almost like he wants to make sure the narrator realizes this). As the two get ready to go their separate ways, he asks the narrator for some money. (Actually, he pretends he's forgotten his money at home, but this is a trick he always pulls.)
The narrator gives him five bucks and goes down to the subway to catch his ride home.
The story jumps ahead at this point and the narrator tells us that he didn't contact Sonny or send him anything in jail for quite awhile. But then the narrator's little daughter dies, so he writes Sonny to let him know. (We'll get more details on the daughter's death later in the story.)
Sonny writes back, and the narrator says that the letter "made him feel like a bastard" (47). Sonny's letter is pretty heart-wrenching. He tells the narrator that he doesn't know how he ended up in the position he's in. He says he's glad their parents are dead so they don't have to live with the shame and pain of having a son who's addicted to drugs. He apologizes to the narrator for any pain he's caused him and he says he'd "rather blow his brains out" (51) than have to live through this experience again.
We also learn from this letter that Sonny is a musician (this will become pretty important later on), and he doesn't want his brother to think that being a musician is what has led to his becoming a drug addict. He asks the narrator if he'll meet him when he gets back to New York (after jail and rehab) and tells him how sorry he is about the narrator's little girl, Gracie.
After receiving this letter, the narrator starts keeping in touch with Sonny. He picks him up when he gets back to the city. When they first see each other, the narrator suddenly remembers a lot of things about his brother that he had forgotten up to this point, and he starts "to wonder about Sonny, about the life Sonny lived" (52).
The two men haven't seen each other for a long, long time, and they have a lot they want to say. But it's also really awkward because they don't really know how to pick up where they left off.
They catch a cab and the narrator asks Sonny if he still wants to go to India one day. It seems that in his younger days, Sonny read a lot about Indian culture and meditation, and he used to want to visit India. Sonny laughs at the memory and says that Harlem "is Indian enough for him" (66).
As they make their way to their narrator's apartment, Sonny asks if they can drive by the park (we think he means Central Park) since it's been such a long time since he's seen New York. As they do this, the narrator notes the gradual change between the well-kept and elegant surroundings of the park and the "vivid, killing streets of their childhood" (72) in Harlem.
The narrator starts thinking about the young men who live on these streets and about how most of them won't ever escape. The narrator lives in a housing project like the one he and Sonny grew up in, and for a moment he starts to worry that he's bringing Sonny back to a place he doesn't want to be.
Their first dinner together is a little awkward. Sonny's oldest nephew remembers his uncle, and his youngest nephew seems to really like him. The narrator's wife Isabel seems to have an easy rapport with Sonny. She makes him laugh, doesn't avoid any subject of conversation, and "gets Sonny past his first, faint stiffness" (77).
The narrator doesn't feel at ease the way Isabel does. He catches himself "watching Sonny for signs" (77) of drug use. He doesn't do this to be judgmental; he explains that he's "trying to find out something about his brother" (77) and that all he really wants is for Sonny to "tell him he was safe" (77).
This idea of safety reminds the narrator of his and Sonny's father, who always said there was no such thing as a safe place. We learn that he died when Sonny was just 15.
The narrator recalls a few more details about his father and the relationship he had with Sonny. Sonny "was the apple of his father's eye. It was because he loved Sonny so much and was frightened for him, that he was always fighting with Sonny" (79). Even though their father was "big and rough and loud-talking" (79) while Sonny was quiet and introverted, the narrator tells us that they were very much alike because "they both had that same privacy" (79).
The narrator also starts to remember their mother, who tried to explain this sense of privacy to the narrator just after their father passed away. He has these mixed-up memories about Sunday afternoons when all of the adults from church and their family would sit in the living room and talk about their hard lives. They would momentarily forget about the kids who were falling asleep on the couch or in their parents' laps and would talk until it got dark outside. Then one of them would realize how late it was and would turn the light on. They would stop talking in front of the kids because they didn't want them to "know too much too soon" (82).
The narrator remembers the very last time he saw his mother alive: she told him to make sure to look out for Sonny after she's gone.
The narrator initially brushed this idea aside since he didn't think anything would happen to her or Sonny. But then she told him about their father's brother (an uncle they never knew they had), who died when he was young and whose death haunted their father for the rest of his life.
The story about the brother's death is really, really horrible. He and their father are out drinking one night, and the uncle (who was a musician like Sonny) has his guitar slung around his shoulder. As they stumble home, the brother has to go to the bathroom, so he finds a tree down the hill from where they're walking and starts to relieve himself. All of a sudden, their father hears a car coming. He races down the hill just in time to see the "car . . . full of white men" (96) aim for his brother.
The narrator's mother thinks they just meant to scare the uncle, but they were drunk and he was drunk and didn't jump out of the way in time. He screamed as they ran over him, and the narrator's father heard the guitar get smashed to bits and the men in the car yelling as they kept driving. When he finally got to his brother, he "weren't nothing but blood and pulp" (96).
The narrator's mother tells him that their father was never the same after this, and that part of him suspected every white man of being the one who ran his brother over. She never let her husband tell the narrator and Sonny about this, but she said their big, tough dad often cried on her shoulder when he thought about his brother.
She explains that she's not telling the narrator about all of this to make him sad or scared, or to cause him to hate or suspect white men the way his father did. She's "telling him this because he got a brother. And the world ain't changed" (100).
After hearing this, the narrator promises that he won't ever let anything happen to Sonny. His mother explains that he can't stop bad things from happening to his brother; she just wants to make sure that he'll be there for Sonny if something does happen.
Two days after this conversation, the narrator marries Isabel. He sort of forgets this talk until he comes home from the military to attend his mother's funeral. After the funeral, he and Sonny are alone and the narrator "tries to find out something about him" (108). He asks Sonny what he plans to do with his life, and this is the first time the narrator hears that Sonny wants to be a musician.
Sonny tells the narrator that he wants to play piano, and the narrator slips into big-brother mode. He worries that Sonny won't be able to make a living as a musician. Sonny is upset that the narrator can't understand his passion for music.
The narrator senses Sonny's anger, so he tries to relate to his younger brother on some level. He asks him what kind of musician he wants to be, assuming it's something "respectable" like a concert pianist. This makes Sonny laugh, which sort of frustrates the narrator because he feels like he's being laughed at.
Now it's Sonny's turn to try to make amends, so he explains to the narrator that he wants to be a jazz musician. This really freaks the narrator out, in part because he "had always put jazz musicians in a class . . . called 'good-time' people" (122).
The narrator's first reaction is to ask Sonny, "'Are you serious'" (123), to which Sonny replies, "'Hell, yes, I'm serious'" (124). Sonny all of a sudden looks "more helpless than ever, and annoyed, and deeply hurt" (125), and the narrator realizes that he's put his foot in his mouth. He tries to shift the tone of the conversation, so he asks Sonny if he wants to play music like Louis Armstrong (this seems like the only jazz musician he can think of). Sonny says Armstrong's music is "crap" (127), and that he wants to play like Charlie Parker instead.
The narrator is lost (he's never heard of Charlie Parker), and although he thinks this is simply a phase Sonny is going through, it still worries him a little. He pushes Sonny a little more and asks him if he knows how much time it will take for him to learn this music.
Sonny tells him he's willing to spend as much time as it takes, and the narrator starts to see something different in his little brother. He's never seen him this upset, but when Sonny tries to explain that all he really wants to do in life is be a jazz musician, the narrator can't help but say that sometimes people don't get to do what they want.
Sonny quickly cuts him off and says that people should be able to do whatever makes them happy. They keep going around in circles, so the narrator tries to change the subject. He reminds Sonny that he has to graduate from high school, and since both of their parents are dead and the narrator is away in the military, it's been decided that Sonny should move in with Isabel and her parents.
This isn't ideal for anyone, especially Sonny. He doesn't want to move in with Isabel, he doesn't want to stay in school, and more than anything, he doesn't want to stay in Harlem. He drops a big surprise on the narrator when he declares that he wants to join the army.
The narrator is shocked, angry, and scared for his brother: "You must be crazy. You ******* fool, what the hell do you want to go and join the army for?" (154). Sonny tells him again that it's the only way he sees of getting out of Harlem. Desperate, the narrator tries to reason with Sonny in terms that might appeal to him, so he asks him how he plans to study music if he's in the military.
Sonny replies that he'll be able to study on the G.I. Bill when he gets back, but the narrator reminds him that he might not come back at all. He pleads with Sonny to stay home and at least finish high school. He even promises to help him become a musician when he gets back home, as long as Sonny stays in school and lives with Isabel and her family.
Sonny is angry; he feels his brother isn't listening to him or considering what he wants for his own life. But he finally agrees to move in with Isabel, and he's slightly pleased when the narrator reminds him that they have a piano he can practice on whenever he likes.
The next time we see Sonny is when he's living in Isabel's house, and boy does he take full advantage of that piano. He practices day and night, playing the same notes over and over. When he buys a record player, he listens to a song and then goes to the piano and practices the song bit by bit until he has it down pat.
Eventually, this constant playing starts to get to Isabel and her parents, and she tells the narrator that living with Sonny "wasn't like living with a person at all, it was like living with a sound" (168). It's not that Sonny is rude or unpleasant, but he just sort of retreats into himself when he's playing the piano, and "there wasn't any way to reach him" (168).
Isabel and her family find themselves in an awkward position. Sonny isn't really a kid, but he's not really an adult yet either. They know he has nowhere else to go, so they don't want to kick him out. And they don't even want to tell him to stop playing the piano "because even they sensed . . . that Sonny was at that piano playing for his life" (169).
But things eventually boil over when they learn that Sonny hasn't been going to school. After a lot of pressing, Sonny finally admits that he's been hanging out in Greenwich Village, "with musicians, and other characters, in a white girl's apartment" (170).
This scares Isabel's mother and she finally lets loose on Sonny. She screams at him and accuses him of being ungrateful for all of the sacrifices they've been making for him.
Sonny is deeply affected by this (so much so that he doesn't play the piano at all for the rest of the day). When Isabel gets home she starts crying, and this gets to Sonny more than anything. Isabel tells the narrator that "she just watched Sonny's face" (171) and that "She could tell, by watching him . . . that they penetrated his cloud, they had reached him" (171). Sonny starts to realize that he's become a burden, something he never wanted to be.
For the next few days, Sonny doesn't play the piano. Then one day Isabel is in his room and sees that his records are gone. She realizes that Sonny has left. Nobody knows what's happened to him until he sends the narrator a postcard from Greece telling him that he's joined the navy.
The narrator and Sonny don't see each other for a long time after this, and when they finally do they just end up fighting. The narrator doesn't like what Sonny has become, "the way he carried himself, loose and dreamlike all the time" (173). He doesn't like the people he hangs out with, and "his music seemed to be merely an excuse for the life he led" (173).
After one particularly horrible argument, the two don't see each other for months. Eventually the narrator decides to look for Sonny and finds him at an apartment in Greenwich Village. There are a ton of people in Sonny's room and Sonny won't get up from his bed to talk to the narrator alone. They start arguing again and the narrator tells Sonny that "he might just as well be dead as live the way he's living" (174). Sonny tells the narrator that's fine with him, that he was dead as far as his brother was concerned (173). He shoves the narrator out of his apartment. As the narrator is going down the stairs he hears someone laughing at him. He starts to cry.
The story jumps ahead to when the narrator first learns of Sonny's problems with the law. That same autumn is when the narrator's daughter dies (her name is Grace). He tells us the details of her death and they are heart-breaking.
Grace was only two when she died from polio, and the narrator tells us that "she suffered" (175). It all started with what seemed like an innocent fever, and Grace seemed to feel better after a few days, so the narrator and Isabel thought she was OK. But one day, when Isabel was in the kitchen, she heard Grace fall down and go silent. The narrator tells us that, "When Isabel . . . heard that thump and then that silence, something happened in her to make her afraid" (175).
When Isabel found Grace on the living room floor, she was "all twisted up" and "she couldn't get her breath" (175). When she finally screamed, "it was the worst sound, Isabel says, that she'd ever heard in her life" (175). The narrator tells us that Isabel "still hears it sometimes in her dreams" and that she "will sometimes wake up with a low, moaning, strangled sound" (175)
It's Grace's death that prompts the narrator to finally contact Sonny (he writes him on the day of Grace's funeral). He says "his trouble made Sonny's real" (175).
The story jumps ahead again to roughly two weeks after Sonny has moved in with the narrator and his family. It's Saturday and the narrator is home alone. He wants to search Sonny's room but also kind of doesn't, since he's a little scared of what he'll find. As he's going back and forth in his mind about what to do, he starts to stare out the window at the street below.
An interesting scene unfolds on the street. Some people are holding a religious revival and people are stopping to watch. The narrator tells us that, "The revival was being carried on by three sisters in black, and a brother" (178). They're singing, holding their Bibles, and playing the tambourine.
The one man is "testifying" (178) (sort of preaching and talking about his own religious experiences), and the women are singing and collecting donations from the crowd.
Even though the narrator grew up watching these sidewalk revivals, he sees something new in this one. He realizes that the woman in the revival isn't that different from "the woman who stood watching her, a cigarette between her heavy, chapped lips, her hair a cuckoo's nest, her face scarred and swollen from many beatings, and her black eyes glittering like coal" (179). The women seem to recognize that they're not that different from each other, and the narrator thinks this is why they call each other "Sister" (1179).
The narrator watches the crowd as they listen to the music from the revival and he thinks that "the music seemed to soothe a poison out of them" (179) and to sort of carry them away from their bleak lives for just a moment. As he looks at a few specific people in the crowd, he suddenly sees Sonny standing there, carrying a notebook that "made him look . . . almost like a schoolboy" (179)
Sonny smiles at the revival members, throws a few coins in the collection plate, then walks up to the apartment where he joins the narrator at the window. He mentions that the woman has "a warm voice" (183), and as he and the narrator sit down on the sofa he invites the narrator to a club to hear him play that night.
The narrator "sensed . . . that he couldn't say no" (189), so he agrees to go. The two men watch the revival wind down and then Sonny starts to open up to his brother a bit.
He starts to talk about using heroin and tells that narrator that the woman singing at the revival "reminded him for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes - when it's in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant. And - and sure" (195). Sonny avoids looking at the narrator while he's saying all this, but he keeps talking.
He tells the narrator that heroin also makes him feel "in control" (195). The narrator asks angrily if he needs heroin to be able to play music. Sonny tries to explain to his brother that he needs heroin, "not so much to play. It's to stand it, to be able to make it at all. On any level. . . . In order to keep from shaking to pieces" (201).
The narrator starts to ask more questions. He gets on Sonny's case about his addict friends, but he stops himself after realizing that "Sonny was doing his best to talk" (203). Sonny keeps trying to explain things to his brother, like why certain people get hooked on drugs, and why some musicians he plays with have to get high in order to function. He tells the narrator that some of them want to do drugs.
The narrator asks Sonny if he wants to do drugs, but Sonny doesn't really answer this question. Instead, he tells the narrator that when he was listening to the woman sing at the revival he couldn't stop thinking about "how much suffering she must have had to go through - to sing like that" (205). The narrator responds that there really isn't any way around suffering, and Sonny agrees, but he also replies that, "that's never stopped anyone from trying" (207).
At this moment the narrator realizes that things will never be the same between him and Sonny. It's not so much the drugs, or the fact that Sonny has been arrested. It's that the narrator wasn't there for Sonny when he needed him most, that he "had held silence - so long! - when Sonny had needed human speech to help him" (207).
The two brothers keep talking about suffering, and about the possibility of escaping it. The narrator feels that people should "just . . . take it" (208) since there's no way to get away from it, but this angers Sonny, who declares, "But nobody just takes it. . . . Everybody tries not to" (209). He accuses the narrator of having a problem with people who try to deal with suffering in ways that are different from his, but the narrator angrily declares that he doesn't care about other people. All he cares about is Sonny and the fact that he doesn't "want to see him - die - trying not to suffer" (210).
Sonny tells the narrator that he won't die "any faster than anybody else" (211), and while this isn't exactly what the narrator wants to hear, he can see that Sonny at least isn't trying to die. Even so, there is more the narrator wants to say, "about will power and how life could be - well, beautiful" (213). And he wants to let Sonny know that he'll never abandon him again. But he's afraid it won't sound genuine, so instead he "makes the promise to himself and prays that he will keep it" (214).
Sonny keeps trying to explain to the narrator what was going on inside him that led him to drugs. He tells him about the loneliness of walking the streets, his inability to escape his surroundings, the "storm inside" (215). And when there's nothing left to do, that's when he plays his music. He tells the narrator that there are times when a person will do "anything to play, even cut your mother's throat. . . . or your brother's. . . . Or your own'" (216).
He realizes how this final statement must sound, so he tells the narrator that he doesn't need to worry about him because he thinks he's finally OK (or at least he will be). But he also says that he'll never be able to forget "where he's been. And what he's been" (217).
When the narrator asks Sonny point blank what exactly he has been, Sonny struggles to explain. He talks about not feeling part of the world around him, about hurting other people and himself, about the storm coming out of him when he played music. He talks about when he hit rock bottom and how he was disgusted by his own smell. And he tells the narrator that he doesn't know when their mother passed away, but that he had to get away from Harlem in order to get away from drugs.
Sonny keeps talking, and he tells the narrator that when he got back to Harlem, nothing had really changed. He was a little older, but he was still the same person when it came down to it. And he reminds both himself and the narrator that "'It can come again'" (218). (By "it," we think he means drugs, but also all the things that led him to drugs in the first place.)
The narrator finally seems to understand, at least a little. Sonny tells him, "'I had to try to tell you'" (220), and the narrator finally seems to get it.
As this conversation comes to a close, Sonny looks at the narrator with no smile and says, "You're my brother" (222), as if to remind the narrator that they're family, and the narrator replies, "Yes, . . . yes I understand that" (224).
Later that night Sonny and the narrator head to a nightclub, and as soon as they enter people come up to greet Sonny. It's dark in the club and the narrator hears a deep voice say, "'Hello, boy'" (225) to Sonny before he sees who the voice belongs to. But then "an enormous black man, much older than Sonny or the narrator, erupted out of all that atmospheric lighting and put an arm around Sonny's shoulder" (225). He tells Sonny that he's "been sitting right here . . . waiting for him" (225), and soon other people in the club start to notice that Sonny has returned.
Sonny introduces this man (whose name is Creole) to his brother, and Creole tells the narrator that he's glad to meet him in a way that makes the narrator realize "that he was glad to meet him there, for Sonny's sake" (228).
Soon another musician comes up and starts sharing stories about Sonny, and before long the narrator realizes that everyone there knows his brother and that he is "in Sonny's world" now (229).
It's almost time for Sonny and the other musicians to play, so Creole seats the narrator at a table by himself. The musicians, including Sonny, hang out below the bandstand, just outside the spotlight, and the narrator gets the feeling that they're all "being most careful not to step into that circle of light too suddenly: that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in flame" (230).
Slowly the musicians make their way to their instruments, and "Creole took Sonny by the arm and led him to the piano" (230). A woman announces Sonny's name to the crowd, and they clap. Sonny, "being funny and being ceremonious, and so touched . . . that he could have cried, but neither hiding it nor showing it, riding it like a man, grinned, and put both hands to his heart and bowed at the waist" (230).
Creole goes to his instrument (the bass fiddle), another man grabs a horn, there's someone on drums, and Sonny is at the piano. The narrator senses a change in the atmosphere. It gets quiet and the lights turn blue, and the "room began . . . to tighten" (231). The musicians all look different, too. The narrator sees Creole look at all of the musicians, "as though he were making certain that all his chickens were in the coop, and then he - jumped and struck the fiddle. And there they were" (231).
As the narrator listens to the music, he begins to think about the difference between a musician and his audience. The audience hears "personal, private, vanishing evocations" (232), but he thinks the musician must hear something different. He thinks that the "man who creates the music . . . is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air" (232). (This sounds a lot like what Sonny was trying to explain earlier, doesn't it?)
The narrator watches Sonny closely and sees in his face that "he was working hard, but he wasn't with it' (232). And he also senses that the rest of the musicians are sort of waiting for Sonny to find his stride but also "pushing him along" (232) at the same time.
He switches his attention to Creole and realizes that he's the one in charge. Creole is the one "who held them all back. He had them on a short rein" (232). Creole is listening to all of the musicians, but he's really listening to Sonny. The narrator describes it as Creole "having a dialogue with Sonny' (232) through the music, and he senses that Creole wants Sonny to "leave the shoreline and strike out for deep water" (1232). In other words, Creole wants Sonny to stop playing it so safe and to really let himself go. He wants him to see that "deep water and drowning were not the same thing" (232).
The narrator senses that Creole has some experience with this and that he's trying to show Sonny that it's safe to lose himself in his music for a little while. But Sonny's struggling a bit. He hasn't played in a while, he's still a recovering drug addict, and he's unsure of himself. His playing is stilted and unsure, and he sort of fights his way through the first set.
As soon as the first set is finished, Creole gets them started on the next with a song called "Am I Blue." And all of a sudden, Sonny's playing changes. All of the musicians come together, like they're a family, and the narrator describes it as a conversation of sorts among the instruments.
Sonny's playing is so good now that it sounds like he's "found, right there beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano" (235). And for just a moment, Sonny and the other musicians are all happy.
But Creole is quick to "remind them that what they were playing was the blues" (236) and something in his playing forces the other musicians to change theirs.
As this happens, the other musicians "all gathered around Sonny and Sonny played" (238). And as the narrator watches and listens to his brother, he sees Sonny "make the song his. It was very beautiful because it wasn't hurried and it was no longer a lament" (238).
But something else happens to the narrator, too. Sonny's music makes him think of their parents, of the dead uncle he never knew he had, and of his little girl, Grace. He starts to cry.
All of a sudden the music stops and "Creole and Sonny let out their breath, both soaking wet, and grinning" (239). The narrator flags down one of the waitresses and orders drinks for the musicians. She brings a Scotch and milk for Sonny and puts it on the piano, but he doesn't seem to see it (at least that's what the narrator thinks). But as they're getting ready to start playing, Sonny drinks a little, looks at the narrator, nods at him, and puts the glass back on the piano. Making a reference to a passage from the Old Testament, the narrator thinks to himself that the glass "glowed and shook above his brother's head like the very cup of trembling" (239).