(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Widow’s Son,” the storyteller presents two versions of the same story, with different endings. A poor, illiterate widow in an isolated village has one son who is her “pride and joy,” “the meaning of her life,” but when he is fourteen and about to reward her sacrifices and her hope by winning a scholarship, he dies in an accident outside their home. The boy is cycling home, faster and faster down a steep hill, and at the bottom he swerves to avoid one of his mother’s hens. The mother is dismayed at the absurdity of the event and simply asks, “Why did he put the price of a hen above the price of his own life?” Her neighbors try to comfort her with “There, now.” Her question and their response may imply that the event is beyond comprehension, as if it must simply be accepted as fate; nevertheless, the mother’s cry reveals her impatience and irritation with a human error, her son’s poor judgment when he swerved.

Earlier in the story, the widow was sketched as a person who had not only accommodated herself to her limited circumstances but also had triumphed over them. Her poverty is compounded by nature, but she is not fatalistic, and by her own industry she has made her small patch of land as productive as a larger farm. Her fierce will to make the best of her situation seems to achieve her triumph until the absurd accident ends everything.

There is a suggestion, however, that this is a story with a form of cruel justice. Perhaps she is too self-centered in her pursuits, too arrogant in the face of a fate that has already made her a widow. She tries to conceal her obsessive love for her son with a gruff exterior, as if she fears the ridicule of her neighbors for...

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