Study Guide

Butcher Bird

by Wallace Stegner

Butcher Bird Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The events of “Butcher Bird” take place during a single afternoon. A family sets out to visit their new neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Garfield. Mr. Garfield is an Englishman, whose talk of scientific farming methods and making the desert bloom has reached the family. The father clearly has no desire to visit them, but the mother wants to be neighborly, so they go.

The mother’s and boy’s experiences during this visit are vastly different from the father’s. For the mother and her son, the Garfields’ home is a place of wonder, beauty, and discovery. There is a rug in the house, there is music, and outside, in this barren country, are trees that Mr. Garfield has been trying to grow from cuttings taken down at Old-Man-on-His-Back, a nearby spot where a creek comes out of the hills. To the father, however, the Garfield home represents everything that he is not, so he is scarcely able to behave pleasantly.

The visit gets off to a bad start because the father is determined not to like Mr. Garfield. When Mrs. Garfield serves lemonade without ice, the father’s face reveals his contempt and disdain; he has just spent two weeks digging an icehouse in order to have ice-cold water and beer during the hot season.

Mr. Garfield then shows the boy his gramophone. As the delighted boy inspects this curious machine, his father sharply commands him to keep his hands off; Mr. Garfield, kindly insisting that the boy cannot harm the gramophone, undermines the father’s authority. Soon the father is moodily looking out the window, and tension grows in the room. Realizing this, Mr. Garfield gropes somewhat...

(The entire section is 668 words.)