Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the character of Constantia Davis, Charles Brockden Brown presents another of the strong women for which his fiction was famous. His first book, Alcuin (1798), was a feminist dialogue following Mary Wollstonecraft’s arguments for equality of the sexes. Many critics have maintained that Brown abandoned his feminist leanings in his later fiction, though this story shows that Brown’s ideal of strong and able women was still alive in 1805. Constantia objects to Althorpe’s overprotective concern for her. Later she scorns her father’s apprehension over the mysterious figure in the dark, observing that if he attacked them, it would be one against two, in their favor. Very few writers in 1805 would allow mere numbers to carry more value than gender in a fight or present a young woman as bolder in a pinch than her father.

The second theme common in Brown’s fiction and manifest in this story is the motif of the double. Brown’s protagonists are often found to have surprising symbolic or circumstantial connections with other characters who at first seem totally alien, and Althorpe is no exception. Althorpe is initially measured against his rival, Constantia’s fiancé, though he never appears in the story. More significantly, Althorpe seems mysteriously linked with the local prankster, Nick Handyside. The mysteriously figure seen at the oak is assumed by the local farmer to be Nick, but Davis is sure it is Althorpe. The stranger on the road...

(The entire section is 468 words.)