Introduction

Isak Dinesen’s ‘‘The Sailor-Boy’s Tale,’’ was first published in 1942 in Winter’s Tales, her second collection of short stories.

In this story, Simon, a young sailor boy, rescues a falcon, which has gotten tangled in the ropes of the main mast of a ship. Two years later, Simon, now seventeen and working on a different boat, goes ashore at a port town on the northern coast of Norway. There he meets Nora, a girl of thirteen or fourteen, who promises to give him a kiss if he comes back the next day. The next night, however, he accidentally kills Ivan, a Russian sailor whom he has befriended. He runs to Nora, who gives him the promised kiss. He is eventually taken in by Sunniva, an old woman, who helps him to evade capture for the murder by pretending that he is her son. She then explains to him that she herself was the falcon he rescued (as she sometimes changes into a bird) and that she is now rescuing him in return.

This story contains several stylistic elements typical of Dinesen’s fiction. It is narrated in the style of a fairy tale and includes the supernatural element of the old woman, presumably a witch, who is able to change herself into a falcon. It is also a coming-of-age story, in which the sailor boy, through the rites of passage enacted by the act of murdering a man and the kissing of a girl, is transformed into a man. Destiny is another theme central to the story, as Simon seems to have been destined to meet the falcon/old woman just when he is in need of her help; his passage into manhood is also marked by his ability to accept his destiny. The theme of storytelling is indicated both by the title of the story and by the ending line, which assures the reader that Simon lived ‘‘to tell the story.’’

The Sailor-Boy's Tale Summary

‘‘The Sailor-Boy’s Tale’’ opens with the sailor boy, Simon, aboard a ship, the Charlotte, observing a falcon whose foot has...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

The Sailor-Boy's Tale Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

While en route from Marseilles to Athens during a gale, the young sailor-boy Simon spots a bird that is stuck high in the rigging of his ship. Seeing that the bird is a peregrine falcon, the boy climbs up in order to free it. The ungrateful falcon rewards Simon for his kindness by hacking him in the thumb so hard that he bleeds, and the boy responds in kind by giving the bird a strong blow to its head.

Two years later Simon experiences the full consequences of this seemingly unimportant incident. He is now a crew member on another ship that is docked in northern Norway, in order to buy herring at Bodø, a thriving and gregarious market town. While on shore leave one evening, Simon meets a young girl named Nora, to whom he gives an orange in exchange for the promise of a kiss. The following night he goes ashore again in order to collect his payment. He ends up in the company of Russian sailors, however, and one of them, Ivan, tries to prevent him from going to meet Nora, saying that he wants Simon to stay with them so that they can show him a good time. Simon responds to Ivan’s advances by stabbing him to death.

Simon proceeds to his meeting with Nora. Although she is uncomfortable with the realization that Simon has killed a man, she acknowledges that it was a necessity, especially because he would have otherwise been unable to come to her. After promising never to marry anyone else, Nora gives Simon the kiss that she owes him—an...

(The entire section is 563 words.)