Themes and Meanings
“Blackberry Winter” has often been called one of the great stories in American literature. One of the reasons for its staying power is that it combines two of the most familiar themes in fiction: the rite of passage (the coming of age of a male youth) and the mysterious stranger (the encounter with inexplicable evil). The story is a classic initiation story in that it deals with the child’s discovery of the possibility of disruption of his previously secure and predictable life. Blackberry winter is something Seth has never before encountered and thus seems to be a betrayal by nature itself. This atmosphere of betrayal and the irrational is the climate of time that the story reconstructs as remembered by the adult Seth. All the experiences he undergoes during this one day when he was nine are equally incongruous—the city tramp in the country, the flood during summer, the trash under Dellie’s floor, her vicious slap—all are part of a mystery that old Jebb calls the “changes in life.”
The central event that sticks in Seth’s mind is the confrontation between the tramp and his father; the central image is the gob of spit lying between his father’s boots with brass eyelets and leather thongs on one side and the sad and out-of-place broken black shoes of the tramp on the other. The boy follows the tramp all the rest of his life because he comes to an important realization—that the meaning of “a man” is not just that of his proud,...
(The entire section is 401 words.)