(Masterpieces of American Literature)

On the surface, at least, “The Pedersen Kid” is a relatively simple tale. A Scandinavian family, the Jorgensens, are trying to keep warm during a howling blizzard that has virtually rendered them snowbound. The family consists of Ma (Hed), a kindly, self-effacing woman, and Pa, a boorish, drunken lout who hides his whiskey bottles all over the house and expresses his displeasure by dumping the contents of his chamber pot on the heads of his victims. Jorge, their son and the narrator of the tale, fears and despises him, as does Big Hans, the hired hand who works for the family and lives in the house with them. It is Big Hans who finds the Pedersen kid, half-buried in a snowdrift in front of the Jorgensen farmhouse.

Although he first seems to be dead (the first of many ambiguities in the story), Ma revives the young child (his exact age is another ambiguity—he could be two or even four years old) with the help of Big Hans and Jorge. Pa awakens, fuming as always, but eventually he, Big Hans, and Jorge determine to visit the Pedersen family to notify them of the child’s rescue—and to verify if they have been killed or put in the cellar by a mysterious character called “yellow gloves” by the Pedersen kid.

The bulk of the narrative is taken up by their visit to the Pedersen farm in the midst of the blinding blizzard, itself a kind of symbol for the confusion and ambiguity of the entire situation. Pa drops his whiskey bottle in the...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

The Pedersen Kid Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One stark winter morning after a snowstorm, Big Hans, the Segrens’ hired hand, finds the unconscious body of the son of a neighboring farm family. After a ritualistic process of revival, the Pedersen Kid, still somewhat delirious, tells the strange, horrifying story of how a yellow-gloved stranger had broken into his house and forced the family into the fruit cellar; the boy escaped into a vicious snowstorm and managed to make his way to the Segren house before collapsing. Now he fears that his parents may have been murdered.

It becomes clear that there is long-standing resentment and competition between Big Hans and Pa Segren, so it is only reluctantly that they manage to agree to set off with Jorge for the Pedersen farm. Circumventing the obstacles of weather and their own antagonism for each other, they arrive and come on the intruder’s frozen horse. Hiding in the barn—they are afraid of traversing the open space to the house—they contrive the unlikely project of tunneling unobserved through the snowdrift on the far side of the house. This fails, so they finally decide to risk moving across the yard. Jorge goes first and succeeds, but when his father tries to follow, he is felled by a gunshot. Jorge breaks through a basement window and, anxious and shivering, he awaits the fatal confrontation. No one, however, ever appears. The story concludes with Jorge alone in the Pedersen house, where he considers the presumed deaths not only of the neighbors but also of his own parents and of Big Hans as well. A surprising warmth slowly suffuses him: It is a burning joy, a satisfaction that comes from the brave completion of his duty and, apparently, from having been liberated from the vicious domination of the adults in his life.