Blackberry Winter, Robert Penn Warren
“Blackberry Winter” Robert Penn Warren
American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and playwright
The following entry presents criticism of Warren's short story “Blackberry Winter” (1946). See also Robert Penn Warren Poetry Criticism, Robert Penn Warren Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 4, 6, 8, 13.
“Blackberry Winter” (1946) is Warren's most frequently anthologized work of short fiction. Set in his native region of rural Tennessee, “Blackberry Winter” is a tale about loss of innocence that is related through a middle-aged narrator's recollections. “Blackberry Winter” has been considered an archetypal story with biblical references to the Garden of Eden, the Antichrist, the Fall, the Flood, and the Prodigal Son. It was first published as an illustrated novelette in 1946 and the next year it was included in Warren's only collection of short fiction, The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories. Although he is primarily celebrated as a poet and novelist, Warren's “Blackberry Winter” is considered a major achievement in the short story genre.
Plot and Major Characters
Seth, the narrator of “Blackberry Winter,” is a forty-four-year-old man recounting a series of events that occurred when he was nine. The story is set in June of 1910, the day after a violent storm has flooded the creek, damaging crops and leaving marks of destruction across the countryside. Seth argues with his mother about whether or not it is warm enough for him to go barefoot in blackberry winter, a term which refers to the advent of a sudden cold spell in summer. Seth watches as a stranger approaches the house. His mother offers the man food and a day's work cleaning up the drowned chicks in the yard. Seth goes out in his bare feet and watches the stranger. He then walks to the bridge over the creek, where a crowd of people are watching a dead cow float downstream. Seth next visits his friend Jebb, the son of Dellie and Old Jebb, the black farmhands who work for Seth's parents. While Dellie and Old Jebb's yard is usually well-kept, Seth notices that garbage has been washed out from under their house in the flood and lies scattered across their lawn. Inside the house, Dellie lies sick in bed. Later, Old Jebb tells Seth that Dellie is sick with “woman-mizry” (menopause) but does not explain what this means. Seth returns home and finds his father talking to the stranger. Seth's father explains that he has no more work for the man and offers to pay him for a half day of work. The stranger is rude and nearly spits on Seth's father. When the stranger leaves, Seth trails behind him until they reach a gate at the main road. Seth asks the stranger where he is from and where he is going, and the man leans down and tells him, “‘Stop following me. You don't stop following me and I cut yore throat, you little son-of-a-bitch.’” In the final line of the story, the adult Seth comments, “But I did follow him, all the years.”
The motifs of childhood rite of passage, loss of innocence, and initiation into adulthood are often seen as parallels to the biblical notion of the Fall in “Blackberry Winter.” The figure of the stranger is seen to symbolize the forces of malevolence in the world, a figure of the anti-Christ or dark angel, and his arrival is thus interpreted as the child's introduction to the presence of misery, suffering, and evil in the world, from which he has heretofore been protected. Many critics have suggested that the narrative of “Blackberry Winter” takes the form of a confession and that the middle-aged narrator symbolizes the Prodigal Son, although his homecoming is carried out through an act of reminiscence, rather than a physical return. Throughout “Blackberry Winter,” Warren established a causal relationship between nature's sudden, devastating burst and a rash of unusual events in the community, as he described the startling images witnessed by Seth. Events throughout the day force Seth to view the harsh side of reality: the dead chicks in the yard, the drowned cow in the creek, the garbage washed out from under Dellie's cabin, the “woman-mizry” suffered by Dellie, and, finally, the death-threat uttered by the outlander. Impermanence, the inevitability of change, the passage of time, and mortality are all dominant themes in “Blackberry Winter.” Over the course of the day described in the story, Seth acquires an awareness of the precarious nature of life. Notions of memory and reminiscence are also central to the story, as Seth recounts a series of events that occurred thirty-five years earlier. The distance between the narrator in 1945 and his childhood self in 1910 provides Seth with the ability to make sense of this long-ago day of awakening and disillusionment.
Scholarly reaction to “Blackberry Winter” and The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories is varied. Warren's short fiction is usually compared to the author's poetry and longer fiction, as many principal themes are shared. Furthermore, the critical worth of Warren's short fiction is often judged to be of only a correlative value to Warren's novels and poetry. Warren stated that one of the reasons his output in the short fiction form was limited was the fact that, as he wrote them, his stories kept turning into poems. Another reason, Warren offered, was that he wrote short stories to earn money and after the financial success of his novel All the King's Men (1946) this became unnecessary. Warren's short fiction, including “Blackberry Winter,” is commended for its technical virtuosity and intensity of imagination. While some commentators suggest that Warren's narrative art is better served by the more expansive format of the novel, others praise Warren for his precise and sensitive descriptions of both setting and character, and consider several of his stories to be among the finest in the short story genre. Critics note the influence and similarity of Warren's stories to other pieces which depicted small town life during the author's time, including Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology.
Blackberry Winter 1946
The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories 1947
John Brown: The Making of a Martyr (nonfiction) 1929
Thirty-Six Poems (poetry) 1935
Night Rider (novel) 1939
Eleven Poems on the Same Theme (poetry) 1942
At Heaven's Gate (novel) 1943
Understanding Fiction [editor; with Cleanth Brooks] (criticism) 1943
Selected Poems: 1923-1943 (poetry) 1944
All the King's Men (novel) 1946
World Enough and Time: A Romantic Novel (novel) 1950
Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices (poetry) 1953
Band of Angels (novel) 1955
Promises: Poems, 1954-1956 (poetry) 1957
Selected Essays (essays) 1958
The Cave (novel) 1959
All the King's Men: A Play (play) 1960
You, Emperors, and Others: Poems, 1957-1960 (poetry) 1960
Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War (novel) 1961
Flood: A Romance of Our Time (novel) 1964
Who Speaks for the Negro? (nonfiction) 1965
Selected Poems: New and Old, 1923-1966 (poetry) 1966
(The entire section is 208 words.)
SOURCE: Weathers, Winston. “‘Blackberry Winter’ and the Use of Archetypes.” Studies in Short Fiction 1, no. 1 (fall 1963): 45-51.
[In the following excerpt, Weathers explores the elements of setting, character, and action in “Blackberry Winter” in terms of archetypes that address “the myth of human maturing.”]
In an almost exemplary literary fashion, Robert Penn Warren has in “Blackberry Winter” constructed from traditional devices and essential devices1 a provocative formula for literary experience. Warren has constructed a literary vehicle out of elements—descriptions, events, ideas, characters, images, rhetorical and poetic figures, and verbalizations—which have come to him either from the literary tradition of which he is a part or from his own imaginative and creative awareness of the world around him.2 Using these literary devices, both conventional and essential, he constructs them—as though they were building blocks—into larger literary elements, which we may call structures, that are in turn patterned and combined into the complex of the whole story. These structures, comprising both the conventional and essential devices, are themselves characteristically generic or, in some exceptional cases, are structures new to the literary scene.
Warren in “Blackberry Winter” has created significant structures in three areas—setting,...
(The entire section is 2780 words.)
SOURCE: Bohner, Charles H. “The Past and Its Burden.” In Robert Penn Warren, pp. 102-05. New York: Twayne, 1964.
[In the following excerpt, Bohner perceives “Blackberry Winter” to be a masterpiece that effectively addresses themes of memory, nostalgia, loss, and change.]
Released suddenly from the concentrated work necessary to complete All the King's Men and the critical essay on The Ancient Mariner, Warren in the spring of 1946 found himself in a retrospective mood. Living in the heart of Minneapolis, a Northern city where snow was still falling in May, he was, as he said, “indulging nostalgia” in recalling the coming of spring in his native Kentucky and Tennessee. The chain of association sparked by those memories led to a short story, “Blackberry Winter,” which was published in 1946. It is Warren's masterpiece and one of the great stories of American literature.
The action of the story is simply the events of one morning in the life of a nine-year-old boy who lives on a tobacco farm in rural Tennessee. The surface of each scene is rendered with the pristine freshness it would have for the mind of a sensitive and observant child. The June morning dawns cold and damp, a season called blackberry winter because of its unnatural and unpleasant retrogression from the warmth of spring. The boy, Seth, resents his mother's insistence that he wear shoes that...
(The entire section is 904 words.)
SOURCE: West, Paul. In Robert Penn Warren, pp. 34-8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964.
[In the following excerpt, West highlights motifs of nature and the concept of home in “Blackberry Winter.”]
A single volume, The Circus in the Attic (1948), contains all of Warren's short stories, of which “Blackberry Winter,” published separately in 1946, is outstanding in the history of the genre as well as the most compact epitome of Warren's output. A man in his early forties recalls his initiation into manhood and the ways of nature. When a city-clad stranger comes to work on the farm during a time of storm and flood (like December 1811 in Brother to Dragons) the boy, little apprehending the devastation and stoicism evident everywhere, fastens to him and thus vicariously “goes away.” This symbolic infidelity the adult narrator has come to regret; like the speaker in several of Warren's early poems he is saddened that as a boy he responded poorly to the beleaguered devotion of his parents. Guilt, ever-present in Warren's writings, dogs him until like old Jebb in the story he realizes the past is as unalterable as a ruined crop. Moreover, as if perfidy were not enough, it was perfidy at the wrong time: “blackberry winter” is when the genial spring unnaturally regresses and turns its back, reneging, just like the boy.
Once again Warren explores man and...
(The entire section is 1332 words.)
SOURCE: Davison, Allan. “Physical Imagery in Robert Penn Warren's ‘Blackberry Winter.’” Georgia Review 22, no. 4 (winter 1968): 482-88.
[In the following essay, Davison underlines the imagistic significance of the narrator's feet in “Blackberry Winter.”]
The ability to use physical imagery and human actions as vehicles for psychological and philosophical observations on man is the commanding distinction of Robert Penn Warren's art. His most carefully constructed images dramatically realize a “dialectal configuration”1 which embodies a struggle to explore fully the significance of human experience. This artistic struggle is found in Warren's best fiction in a way that generates a rare brand of sympathetic excitement in the classroom.
In none of his short stories is the quest for understanding better realized than the oft-anthologized, frequently taught “Blackberry Winter”; in no story has he better integrated his imagistic patterns. “Blackberry Winter” is one of Warren's best and, deservedly, most popular stories. Through this dramatization of a child's rite of passage Warren explores the complications of a nine-year-old farm boy's initiation into the complexities of the adult world largely by centering the most telling imagery on the young protagonist's feet. Warren virtually charts the sensitive reactions of the boy's feet to external stimuli. The...
(The entire section is 2758 words.)
SOURCE: Warren, Robert Penn. “‘Blackberry Winter’: A Recollection.” In Robert Penn Warren: A Study of the Short Fiction, edited by Joseph R. Millichap, pp. 90-5. New York: Twayne, 1992.
[In the following essay, originally published in Cleanth Brooks's and Warren's Understanding Fiction in 1979, Warren views the process of writing the story “Blackberry Winter” as a blend of biographical memories and imaginative fiction.]
I remember with peculiar distinctness the writing of this story, especially the balance, tension, interplay—or what you will—between a sense of compulsion, a sense that the story was writing itself, and the flashes of self-consciousness and self-criticism. I suppose that in all attempts at writing there is some such balance, or oscillation, but here the distinction between the two aspects of the process was peculiarly marked, between the ease and the difficulty, between the elation and, I am tempted to say, the pain. But the pain, strangely enough, seemed to be attached to the compulsion, as though in some way I did not want to go into that remembered world, and the elation attached to the critical effort I had to make to ride herd on the wrangle of things that came milling into my head. Or perhaps the truth is that the process was more complicated than that and I shall never know the truth, even in the limited, provisional way the knowing of truth is possible in...
(The entire section is 2676 words.)
SOURCE: Walker, Marshall. “Short Stories.” In Robert Penn Warren: A Vision Earned, pp. 72-84. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979.
[In the following excerpt, Walker examines the biblical themes of the Garden of Eden and the Fall in “Blackberry Winter.”]
The time known as blackberry winter is a spell of unseasonable weather which interrupts summer when blackberries are ripe. It is a climatic incongruity, like T. S. Eliot's ‘Midwinter spring’ in ‘Little Gidding’. Warren's most famous short story began as ‘a way of indulging nostalgia’ for the childhood freedom of being allowed to go barefoot in summer and for the strange ‘feeling of betrayal when early summer gets turned upside-down and all its promises are revoked by the cold-spell, the gully-washer.’1 ‘Blackberry Winter’ (1946), therefore, developed out of familiar rural materials which could smoothly extend into a representation of Paradise and Fall without any forcing of basic realism. The story perfectly succeeds in fusing ‘experienced reality’ and ‘symbolic significance’. The basic strategy is to create and maintain a tension between the point of view of the nine-year-old boy and that of the man he has become thirty-five years later, while suggesting, through symbolic representation and occasional observations of the middle-aged man, the differences which the years have made in his evaluation of this spot...
(The entire section is 1189 words.)
SOURCE: Wilhelm, Albert E. “Images of Initiation in Robert Penn Warren's ‘Blackberry Winter.’” Studies in Short Fiction 17, no. 3 (summer 1980): 343-45.
[In the following excerpt, Wilhelm explores the rite of passage motif in “Blackberry Winter” as expressed through the imagery of the Tennessee farm and the biblical themes of the Garden of Eden, the Fall, and the Flood.]
In analyzing the initiation motif in Robert Penn Warren's “Blackberry Winter,” Richard Allan Davison asserts that in no other story has Warren “better integrated his imagistic patterns.” Davison comments further:
Through this dramatization of a child's rite of passage Warren explores the complications of a nine-year-old farm boy's initiation into the complexities of the adult world largely by centering the most telling imagery on the young protagonist's feet. … The responses of Seth's bare feet serve as indications of his changing awareness of the mystery, uncertainty and evil in the world from which his parents have so long sheltered him.1
Such imagery is indeed pervasive, but another cluster of images is equally significant in conveying Seth's maturation. These images derive from the topography of the Tennessee farm (which is Seth's home) and include, in particular, references to enclosures, fences, and gates.
(The entire section is 1144 words.)
SOURCE: Rocks, James E. “Warren's ‘Blackberry Winter’: A Reading.” University of Mississippi Studies in English 1 (1980): 97-105.
[In the following essay, Rocks finds parallels between Warren's “Blackberry Winter,” his novel All the King's Men, and the author's essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem “The Ancient Mariner.”]
Robert Penn Warren wrote “Blackberry Winter” shortly after he completed All the King's Men and “A Poem of Pure Imagination: an Experiment in Reading,” the long essay on The Ancient Mariner; these three works, written during 1945 and 1946, are notable examples of their respective genres and reveal Warren's varied literary talents. That “Blackberry Winter” was written soon after the novel and essay suggests that it might be read critically in the light of the two earlier works. It is unlikely that they influenced the short story in any definite way, but the essay on Coleridge and All the King's Men do foreshadow some of the themes, symbols and techniques of the story and indicate that Warren was thinking about similar problems as he wrote each work. All the King's Men and “Blackberry Winter” share the same mood of impending disorder and express a similar view of the idea of change, a major theme in Warren's work.
In “Writer at Work: How a Story was Born and How, Bit by Bit, It Grew,” Warren...
(The entire section is 3694 words.)
SOURCE: Ford, Thomas W. “Indian Summer and Blackberry Winter: Emily Dickinson and Robert Penn Warren.” Southern Review 17, no. 3 (July 1981): 542-50.
[In the following essay, Ford discusses the common themes shared by Warren's “Blackberry Winter” and the poem “These are the days when Birds come back” by Emily Dickinson.]
Separated as they were by both space and time, Robert Penn Warren and Emily Dickinson responded in remarkably similar fashion to those two curious seasonal freaks of nature—Indian summer and blackberry winter. Dickinson's poem “These are the days when Birds come back,” written about 1859, and Warren's short story “Blackberry Winter,” written in the fall or winter of 1945-46, are two sides of the same coin. Indian summer, that short-lived period in late October or early November when the weather suddenly seems to turn around and slip back into summer, is the central image in Dickinson's poem. Blackberry winter, that equally short-lived period in May or June when summer turns upside down and winter seems to reappear, is the central image in Warren's story. In both the poem and the story, these sudden reversals of nature's seasons become strikingly appropriate metaphors for the deeply disturbing and peculiarly human awareness, experienced by most of us at some crucial point in childhood, that those things which we had always regarded as absolute, timeless, changeless,...
(The entire section is 3736 words.)
SOURCE: Freese, Peter. “‘Rising in the World’ and ‘Wanting to Know Why’: The Socialization Process as Theme of the American Short Story.”1Archiv fur das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 218, no. 2 (1981): 286-302.
[In the following essay, Freese examines three American initiation stories, including Nathaniel Hawthorne's “My Kinsman, Major Molineaux,” Sherwood Anderson's “I Want to Know Why,” and Robert Penn Warren's “Blackberry Winter.”]]
Leafing through Erasmus of Rotterdam's Colloquia (1522), which went through more than 130 printings and remained in use as a popular textbook for teaching Latin till the eighteenth century, one finds, for example, the dialogue of a youth with a prostitute or the detailed description of the effects of syphilis in the story of a diseased rake's marriage with a sixteen-year-old innocent girl. Such surprising topics make one realize that a collection of texts which today would stand a fair chance of being indexed as harmful to young persons was long esteemed as a useful schoolbook. Obviously, there were times in which legal concepts like the protection of children and young persons and educational notions like developmental appropriateness were unknown, and in which children, adolescents and adults shared the same social realm.2 Thus it is no wonder that in older literature the...
(The entire section is 8118 words.)
SOURCE: Eisinger, Chester E. “Robert Penn Warren: The Conservative Quest for Identity.” In Robert Penn Warren: Critical Perspectives, edited by Neil Nakadate, pp. 31-2. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981.
[In the following excerpt, Eisinger outlines the defining characteristics of Warren's fiction and contends that “Blackberry Winter” is among the more meaningful of the author's short stories.]
The conservative southern imagination may be best summed up, for the 1940's, in the work of Robert Penn Warren. He belongs to this period, as Faulkner does not. But, like Faulkner, he is a writer of such considerable achievement that he cannot be totally contained within a formula. Or perhaps it would be better to say that Warren reveals, better than any other writer except Faulkner, the potentials for a universal interpretation of experience that lie in southern conservatism.
The particularities of Warren's revisionist and conservative position may be framed in a dialectic of affirmations and repudiations. Such a formulation may ignore the spontaneity of Warren's mind, but it will have the advantage of setting before us the naked girders in the structure of his thought. To begin, then, he rejects the heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment. He finds its optimistic view of human nature shallow and its faith in reason and abstract principle misplaced; most of all he fears...
(The entire section is 1068 words.)
SOURCE: Tucker, Kenneth. “The Pied Piper—a Key to Understanding Robert Penn Warren's ‘Blackberry Winter.’” Studies in Short Fiction 19, no. 4 (fall 1982): 339-42.
[In the following essay, Tucker assesses the parallels between Warren's “Blackberry Winter” and the medieval German folk tale of the Pied Piper.]
Although “Blackberry Winter” is known as one of Robert Penn Warren's finest short stories, few critics have studied it. Those who have analyzed it have emphasized its themes—the unpredictability of nature, the loss of innocence, the mutability of joy, and the growing awareness of evil's reality.1 None, however, has directed attention to a scheme which guides the reader's perceptions of the fictional events—the story's parallelism to the medieval German legend of the Pied Piper. Warren uses the parallelism to sharpen our understanding of young Seth's behavior on the day which alters his life, to clarify Seth's relationship with the tramp who wanders onto his parents' farm, and to shed light upon the story's enigmatic final line: “But I did follow him [the tramp], all the years.”2 Warren's adaptation of the Pied Piper legend adds a vital dimension to the tale of a child's psychological movement from Edenic innocence to knowledge of sorrow.
Although the Pied Piper story is well known, outlining it is in order. Hamelin is so plagued by rats...
(The entire section is 1933 words.)
SOURCE: Snipes, Katherine. “The Dream Sea of Ideas: Prose Period, 1944-1950.” In Robert Penn Warren, pp. 61-5. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Snipes maintains that “Blackberry Winter” contains many autobiographical elements and effectively captures childhood experiences.]
The best known and most often anthologized of the stories [in The Circus in the Attic] is “Blackberry Winter,” which has many autobiographical elements. Like so much of Warren's poetry involving childhood experience, it captures the way in which children become aware of the suffering and disillusionment associated with adult life. It is a story of the passage from the naïve paradise of expectation into the blemished reality of adults. This theme is subtly suggested from the very first, when the nine-year-old boy is in a contest of wills with his mother about whether he should go outside barefoot. The fact that it is June is sufficient reason, in the boy's mind, for going barefoot, in spite of the obvious reality of an unseasonable cold spell.
The very real chill of an inhospitable world after a “gully-washer” is but one detail of a series of impressions the child accumulates that day: the sinister urban tramp who earns fifty cents by gathering up and burning the drowned chicks strewn in the mud of the chicken yard; the dead cow that bobs in the flooding river; the...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
SOURCE: Watkins, Floyd C. “Following the Tramp in Warren's ‘Blackberry Winter.’” Studies in Short Fiction 22, no. 3 (summer 1985): 343-45.
[In the following essay, Watkins argues that the final sentence in “Blackberry Winter” is an ineffective conclusion to the story.]
Robert Penn Warren wrote his short stories in the late 1930's and the first half of the 1940's. He did not publish any poems from his Selected Poems (1943) until Brother to Dragons (1953) and then the poems collected into the Pulitzer Prize winning Promises (1957). Brevity and compactness (and perhaps the intensity of writing short fiction) interfered with Warren's composition of poetry. On the other hand, he has said that the emotional turbulence of the last stages of his marriage to Cinina Brescia also ran counter to the mood which produces poetry.
Preciseness of imagery, distinctness of characterization, and revelation of meaning give Warren's “Blackberry Winter” many traits of his poems. The story begins with childhood in the country recalled by a forty-four-year-old man. The progression is toward increasing conflict on a day on the farm and an abrupt shift in time at the end of the story when the narrator takes a hard look at the meaning of his following a tramp after that day. An interpretation by Warren written twelve years after the story was published serves as the author's...
(The entire section is 1547 words.)
SOURCE: Dietrich, Bryan. “Christ or Antichrist: Understanding Eight Words in ‘Blackberry Winter.’” Studies in Short Fiction 29, no. 2 (spring 1992): 215-20.
[In the following essay, Dietrich examines the last line in “Blackberry Winter” and declares that the tramp symbolizes a duality of good and evil, both an Antichrist figure of disillusionment with religion and a messenger of hope.]
For four and half decades readers, professors, and critics seem to have stumbled, at least the first time through, over the last line of Robert Penn Warren's short story, “Blackberry Winter.” If we know the basic storyline, the adult narrator's final, backward-looking observation, “But I did follow him, all the years,” is plain enough on the surface. It simply refers to the tramp of the story and to an experience the narrator is remembering in the context of 35 interim years. But as readers, we know there is a deeper level, and it is the deeper level that throws us. Seth, the narrator, has not literally spent the years since he was nine years old following that one tramp. But if we believe a metaphor is at work here and that that metaphor succeeds, then we must be seeing evidence, clues, or keys to its interpretation, in the larger body of the story.
Floyd C. Watkins argues that such a key to adequate understanding of the last line (and ultimately, I suppose, the whole tale) is...
(The entire section is 2696 words.)
SOURCE: Millichap, Joseph R. In Robert Penn Warren: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 17-25. New York: Twayne, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Millichap asserts that the tramp in “Blackberry Winter” symbolizes loss of innocence and the inevitability of change.]
Perhaps no single, postwar American story has been so often anthologized, so frequently alluded to, or so highly praised as “Blackberry Winter.”1 Warren himself acknowledged its special importance by including it in the second edition of Understanding Fiction (1959) along with his introductory essay, “‘Blackberry Winter’: A Recollection.” The last story he wrote, in the fall and winter of 1945-46, it is not only his best known but his best effort in the genre. Obviously “Blackberry Winter” stands successfully on its own; indeed, it was first published as a separate chapbook by the Cummington Press in 1946. But it is best read and most fully understood within the full context of Warren's short-fiction cycle, The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories.
Warren placed his finest story second in the volume directly after the introductory novella, whose title has metaphoric and thematic implications that provide a key to understanding this story. The story is a work of recollection on the parts of both author and narrator, a blending of memory and imagination, of history and romance. The...
(The entire section is 3986 words.)
SOURCE: Justus, James H. “Warren as Mentor: Pure and Impure Wisdom.” In The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren, edited by David Madden, pp. 3-13. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Justus perceives the character of the stranger in “Blackberry Winter” as a mentor figure.]
More than once in Robert Penn Warren's writing occurs the gnomic passage: nothing is ever lost. Whatever else the declarative statement may mean, it connotes promise and threat equally—its authority derives from some prior vision presumed to be cohesive, integral, conclusive. More discovery than precept, the statement yet carries the weight of uttered truth. It is what we might expect from a wisdom figure.
If nothing is ever lost, however, it does not follow that everything will be found. In his long career Robert Penn Warren emerges as one of the century's great seekers, and what he found was always more provisional than definitive. The entanglement of will and fate is a given in most of the recording voices we hear in his work—the poetic personae, the narrating protagonists, the reluctant and partial memorist, the amateur historian and sociologist. The writing is a dramatic enactment of a sensibility forever engaged in untangling the relationship of human responsibility to cosmic reality; if the latter remains tantalizingly mysterious, the former is never...
(The entire section is 4599 words.)
SOURCE: Cullick, Jonathan S. “Return, Reconciliation, Redemption: Uses of the Past in Warren's Biographical Narratives.” In Making History: The Biographical Narratives of Robert Penn Warren, pp. 9-27. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
[In the following excerpt, Cullick considers the theme of the Prodigal Son and the importance of the past in Warren's “Blackberry Winter.”]
An example of redemption through knowledge and confession is “Blackberry Winter,” a Prodigal Son story in which the narrator at age forty-four, revisits one day of his childhood to acknowledge his complicity in time. Seth observes that in childhood, time is not a pattern of separate moments but an atmosphere within which events emerge: “When you are nine years old, what you remember seems forever; for you remember everything and everything is important and stands big and full and fills up Time and is so solid that you can walk around and around it like a tree and look at it” (“BW” [“Blackberry Winter”] 64). The story is an initiation narrative; the storm that floods the landscape and the stranger who confronts Seth's father both intrude upon the garden of Seth's youth. Seth narrates the story as a man in his forties recalling how time appeared during his prelapsarian existence, before events seemed to become fragmented from each other. The young Seth's perception of time eschews both vector and...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)
SOURCE: Grimshaw, James A., Jr. “Early Fiction.” In Understanding Robert Penn Warren, pp. 64-71. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
[In the following excerpt, Grimshaw explores central themes shared by five of Warren's short stories, including “Blackberry Winter.”]
Warren's canon of short stories is relatively small, containing only about sixteen texts if one excludes the vignettes written for his high school literary publication. Several of these short stories are incorporated into his longer fiction. For example, Warren's short story “Prime Leaf” (1931) was expanded into Night Rider. Recognizing that his talent lay in novels and poetry rather than short stories, Warren did not devote much of his creative energy to writing short fiction. Indeed, his last published short story, “Invitation to a Dance,” appeared in February, 1949, two years after his only collection of short stories, The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories, appeared. In his biography of Warren, Joseph Blotner notes that Warren stopped writing short fiction because he felt the stories got in the way of his poems.
Critics are somewhat divided about the value of Warren's short stories. Justus rightly suggests that Warren's short stories demonstrate his ability to express abstract metaphysical concerns by creating compellingly distinct, historically specific narratives:...
(The entire section is 2158 words.)
Grimshaw, James A., Jr. Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981, 494 p.
A bibliography of works by and about Robert Penn Warren.
Blotner, Joseph. Robert Penn Warren: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.
A comprehensive biography organized according to major phases in Warren's life.
Casper, Leonard. “Fiction and Biography: The Ornate Web.” In Robert Penn Warren: The Dark and Bloody Ground, pp. 92-100. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1960.
Discusses the role of childhood memories in “Blackberry Winter.”
Additional coverage of Warren's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: American Writers; Authors in the News, Vol. 1; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1968-1988; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16R, 129; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 10, 47; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13, 18, 39, 53, 59; Dictionary of Literary...
(The entire section is 232 words.)