Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Big Bear of Arkansas” strongly resembles other Old Southwest humor tales published in Spirit of the Times and similar gentlemen’s magazines of the 1840’s. Ostensibly its theme is a democratic glorification of the frontiersman’s individualism, as he triumphs over genteel society. Entering a cabin filled with travelers more sophisticated than he, Doggett immediately captures everyone’s attention; even the aloof narrator becomes interested in his accounts of his hunting prowess. Doggett’s attractive appearance and good humor overcome the passengers’ initial anger at his contemptuous remarks about “green-horn” city dwellers who cannot raise a crop of turnips or hit a barn door with a rifle shot. At first Doggett appears to be a loud, somewhat crude braggart, and several passengers express doubts about his tales, but he knows his listeners’ expectations, and in each case he has an answer that both silences the questioner and reinforces his image as frontiersman and hunter.

From the beginning, the narrator seems disdainful of his fellow passengers; he hides behind his newspaper to avoid conversing with them. Doggett’s arrival creates a type of social interaction, however, making the narrator also part of the storyteller’s audience. Nevertheless, the narrator remains contemptuous of fellow passengers such as the cynical Hoosier, the “live Sucker” from Illinois, and the “timid little man”; only the “gentlemanly...

(The entire section is 497 words.)