Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Ledge” dramatizes the events of a tragedy that actually occurred on the Maine coast, where hunting sea ducks can be extremely dangerous. The power of Lawrence Sargent Hall’s story derives from its focus on the fisherman and his tenacious grasp on life until the tide overwhelms him. The account of the victims’ last minutes harrows the reader with its grim depiction of the tide rising inch by inch until the boys and the dog just slip away and the fisherman drowns with his foot pinned in the rock crevice. Hall does not indulge in pathetic fallacies. The ocean is never “cruel” or “pitiless” or sentient in any way; it is mere matter subservient to the forces of lunar gravity, and God help those who are careless in its presence.

The fisherman might be judged a victim of his own pride. He has always mastered the physical world, marching through it contemptuous of the timid. Gender stereotypes intrude as he is compared to his wife, sensitive to nuances of feeling and experience that do not register in the fisherman’s consciousness. She even daydreams about being a widow. Her ambivalence toward the fisherman generates a special poignancy in the final paragraph when she stares at his body on the frozen dock, seeing him as “exaggerated beyond remorse or grief, absolved of his mortality.”

The boys are not developed at length, but the nephew is captured as an alien from inland when he develops a case of “ledge fever” and...

(The entire section is 462 words.)