(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bowles’s most celebrated short story is a brutal, ironic tale of fatal misjudgment, of deceit, of appalling cruelty, and of the destruction of a destroyer. Nature, in the form of the Sahara Desert, is as much a protagonist as is young Driss, the tale’s victim.

“The Delicate Prey” revolves around three members of the Filala tribe, two brothers and Driss, the son of their sister, who make a fateful journey to the desert town of Tessalit. Driss is a young, virile man who enjoys the brothels of the town in which he resides. His uncles decide to take a short route to Tessalit through country that comes perilously close to the dreaded Reguibat warriors, a bloody-minded group of land pirates known for their horrible murders of those traveling through their domain.

On the journey, the three meet a lone camel rider who becomes their guide. No one seems to suspect the man except Driss, who questions his motives in serving as their guide. Driss remains quiet about his fears. The man identifies himself as a Moungari, a man from a supposedly peaceful, well-respected place. On a pretext of going hunting for gazelle, the Moungari lures one brother, then the next, to their deaths, shooting each in turn. Imagining the distant shots to be harbingers of a feast to come, Driss meanwhile drifts off to sleep. He awakens in horror when he finally realizes what the earlier shots signified. He sets off toward distant Tessalit, only to stumble across the camp...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

The Delicate Prey Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Delicate Prey” is the narrative of a journey through isolated places and hidden terrors. Three Filala tribesmen and leather merchants are about to move their business to a new town. Two are brothers—serious, older men. Driss, their nephew, is a young man interested in the pleasures of love.

To arrive at their destination, Tessalit, as soon as possible, the brothers choose a route through a remote and dangerous region. The area is prey to the marauding Reguibat tribe, known for its ferocity. An insignificant company of three men and their camels, so the brothers argue, offers no temptation to raiders seeking rich caravans. Still, they travel carefully, maintaining close watch at night.

Several days out, the travelers spot a lone figure moving toward them, matching his course with theirs. As the figure approaches, he hails them in friendship. The brothers are relieved to see that he is not dressed as a Reguibat but observe him carefully for any irregularity. Driss is troubled by the man’s small eyes that “give out nothing,” but is dissuaded from his suspicion by his uncles’ reaction. The man identifies himself as a Moungari, a respected tribe from a holy area. The stranger offers his skills as a hunter if allowed to join the group. Skeptical about finding game in these remote regions, the brothers accept him to increase their numbers in the dangerous environment.

One morning the Moungari goes off alone, on foot, to hunt gazelle among the hills. As distant shots are heard, first one brother, then the next, goes off to join the hunt. Driss is left alone, disappointed, to...

(The entire section is 663 words.)