Josephine the Singer Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a philosophizing mouse, reflects on the powerful effect that the singing of his fellow mouse Josephine has on the unmusical community of mice. Among the practical, sly, and care-laden mice, Josephine is an exception. She alone loves music and knows how to supply it. However, there are some mice who do not find anything extraordinary in Josephine’s singing. The narrator partly includes himself in this opposition group that finds nothing artistic in her song, which seems to be nothing more than common mouse squeaking. The narrator adds, however, that one must see her as well as hear her in order to understand her art, which derives its uniqueness from the way she stands before the assembled mice and does with great ceremony what every other mouse does without thinking. The fact that she is somewhat less proficient in squeaking than the average mouse seems only to heighten the effect of her performance.

It is times of trouble that Josephine deems most fitting for her recitals, for at such times the restless and anxious mice are eager to come together for mutual support and comfort. “Quiet peace is our most beloved music,” the narrator notes early in the story, and when the mice fall silent in her auditorium, it is as if they were participating in this longed-for peace. Thus, the narrator asks himself: “Is it her song that delights us, or perhaps rather the solemn stillness, with which her weak little voice is surrounded?” In order to gather the scurrying mice, Josephine usually needs only to assume her singing pose, with her head tilted back, mouth half open, and eyes turned to the heights. If the number of listeners is too few, she will stamp her feet, swear, and even bite until a suitable audience is found.

Why do the mice go to such lengths for her, the narrator asks. He suggests that the community sees itself as Josephine’s protector, as a father for this fragile, needy child. Josephine, on the other hand, believes that her role is to protect the mice from their daily troubles. Her song supposedly saves them from their serious economic and political situation. However, it is all too easy, the narrator insists, to pose as the savior of the mouse folk, who are...

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