Study Guide

Roger Malvin's Burial

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Roger Malvin's Burial Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens in 1725, in the aftermath of Lovell’s Fight, a battle in the French and Indian Wars. Two soldiers lie wounded in the forest, miles from the nearest settlement, at the foot of a rock that resembles a gigantic gravestone. The significance of this rock is immediately apparent, for the older of the men, Roger Malvin, is mortally wounded. The men have already dragged themselves along for three days, but Malvin knows he will not be able to go farther.

Malvin urges the younger man, Reuben Bourne, to go on without him, to save himself and leave Malvin to die. Reuben is horrified at the thought. Malvin has been his friend and mentor, and Reuben expects to marry his daughter, Dorcas. The two argue at length, Malvin insisting that there is no sense in Reuben staying with him: If Reuben stays behind, he will die, too; if both try to go on together, Malvin will die anyway.

Finally, Malvin tells a story from his own youth, when he fought in another battle against the Indians. His comrade was seriously wounded, unable to travel. Leaving him behind, as comfortable as possible, Malvin was able to go on alone, find help, and return to rescue the other man. Reluctantly persuaded by this story, Reuben at last agrees to go. Malvin’s last request is that Reuben return when he can, bury him properly, and say a prayer for him.

Reuben’s wounds are also serious, however, and when he is finally found he is too ill to tell his rescuers...

(The entire section is 495 words.)