“Blackberry Winter” describes one day in the life of a young boy on his parents’ farm, but the story is told as a recollection by a grown man, thirty-five years later. Robert Penn Warren has said that the story grew out of two memories—that of being allowed to go barefoot in the summer when school is out and that of feeling betrayed when the promises of summer are forestalled by a sudden cold spell. After beginning with this nostalgic memory, Warren realized that for it to be a story something had to happen. Therefore, he introduced the mysterious stranger who seems, like the cold of “blackberry winter,” to be wrong, out of place, incongruous.
Indeed, incongruity, or the child’s discovery of a cold reality of which he was previously unaware, constitutes the plot line and structure of the story. It begins with the boy’s astonishment that he is not allowed to go barefoot, even though it is June because of a fierce rainstorm and the accompanying cold weather. The adult Seth examines the significance of this disruption of his expectations by relating it to the child’s perception of time, which is not something that passes and has movement, but is like a climate, like something solid and permanent. The story itself is a memory in time that retains this solidity.
The stranger who appears on the farm on this particular morning is as incomprehensible to Seth as the unseasonable cold weather. First, it is strange that he should be there at all, having come out of a swamp where no one ever goes. Seth even closes his eyes, thinking that when he opens them the man will be gone, for he seems to come from nowhere and to have no reason to be there. Seth, with the self-assurance of a child, realizes, as he does about the weather, that the man does not belong, that he “ought” to be other than as he is.
The tramp is given the job of burying dead baby chicks killed by the storm, a task he...
(The entire section is 790 words.)