Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Spencer Holst’s impish little story about the nature of hope, probability, and fiction has the classically clean plot line of a fable. Its characters are two-dimensional, existing only for the sake of furthering the suggestive and symbolic plot, and the plot itself is mathematically precise and formal. The story exploits several fictional conventions and puts them in the foreground. The first is the intentional, and therefore meaningful, nature of events in fictions. The gypsy believes that although the first two times that the monkey brings him the necklace may be weird accidents, the third time plunges the whole thing “into meaning.” His belief that fate is at work is equivalent to a fictional character realizing that he is a character in a fiction rather than a real person in a real world. Nothing happens by accident in fiction; everything is fated because fictions are closed forms in which all events have already occurred.

This concept of closure is the second convention that Holst exploits, for, like Frank Stockton’s famous 1882 story, “The Lady or the Tiger,” Holst leaves the ending open, violating the reader’s expectation that there will be a meaningful closure, thus creating the illusion that an appropriate final event has not yet occurred. The curse enforces this idea thematically in the story, for a curse is a guarantee that, given certain prerequisites, certain subsequent events will inevitably occur. This sense of inevitability...

(The entire section is 466 words.)