Study Guide

Rock Springs

by Richard Ford

Rock Springs Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Rock Springs is a collection of stories Ford wrote during the 1980’s. There are no heroes in the traditional sense in these short works, nor are there villains. Some readers might be inclined to label the characters “victims,” for certainly the environment and the influence of other people determine the characters’ actions, often for the worse. Yet Ford should not be confused with the naturalistic authors of the early 1900’s who portrayed hapless human specimens under a microscope.

Though the situations in which characters find themselves seem, for the most part, not of their own making, rather than being dehumanized or victimized, they become more credible and sympathetic. Many are loners struggling to find some meaning in limited lives lived out against harsh environments. In the title story, Earl, the narrator, is a petty criminal fleeing bad-check charges in Montana with his girlfriend and his daughter. As his troubles mount—his car breaks down and his girlfriend decides to leave him—he experiences a self-revelation. He comes to see himself as a victim of happenstance, unable to take charge of his life: “There was always a gap between my plan and what happened, and I only responded to things as they came along and hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble.” Like many Ford stories, “Rock Springs” concludes as it begins, with a question that remains unanswered.

Like several protagonists in the stories, Les, the...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Rock Springs Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Earl Middleton is a man looking to change his luck. He has had his fair share of trouble in his life—troubles with the law, love, and work—and now he is hoping for a fresh start, a new beginning. He decides to hit the road, to get out of Montana, where he has recently gotten into trouble over several bad checks, which can put him into prison in Montana. For Earl, the troubles do not end in Montana. He seems to breed bad luck and trouble, to bring them along with him, even though he claims that he believes in crossing the street to stay out of trouble’s way.

For Earl, trouble follows and hounds him like the fumes of exhaust that stream out from the back of his car, a cranberry Mercedes stolen from an ophthalmologist’s lot. He gets halfway through Wyoming before the first hint of trouble surfaces: The oil light flashes, which he knows is a bad sign. When the car finally breaks down, thirty miles outside the mining town of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Earl’s life unravels faster than he ever could have dreamed. What began as a road trip filled with laughter and love, a new beginning for him, his girlfriend, Edna, and his daughter, Cheryl, turns abruptly into a dead end: a road going nowhere. Even worse, the stolen Mercedes is not the only thing that has broken down: Earl’s relationship with Edna turns sour. He is left to deal with the fact that he will always remember Rock Springs as a place where a woman left him, instead of a place where he finally...

(The entire section is 524 words.)