How realistic did the main characters'--Mally, Barty, Mr. and Mrs. Gunliffe--transformations seem in "Malachi's Cove" by Anthony Trollope?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The short story "Malachi's Cove" by Anthony Trollope has five primary characters. Mally is the twenty-year-old granddaughter of Malachi and is quite a force to be reckoned with in nearly every way. She is physically strong from hauling seaweed in from the sea in Malachi’s Cove. She is also determined and willing to do whatever it takes to protect what she perceives as being hers. When interlopers try to encroach on her grandfather’s property and rights, she takes them to court. When her neighbor wants to haul her seaweed, she is ready for a fight.

Bartholomew “Barty” Gunliffe is an only child and feels a great obligation to the family farm. He knows his best and most viable option to provide fertilizer for the crops is the seaweed which he wants to haul directly from the sea. Unfortunately, he has to go through Mally in order to do that, and she is unmoving.

The first transformation seems to be Mally’s, as Barty simply does not take no for an answer. He collects the seaweed which is farther out, leaving Mally everything she could reach whether he was here or not. Perhaps that is a reasonable concession from a young girl to a young man.

The bigger transformation happens on the day of Barty’s accident. As the two young people are doing their jobs in the midst of a raging storm, they begin to compete and Mally sees Barty go down on the slippery rocks and the tempestuous waves and eddies.

She hated him as much as ever—but she could hardly have wished to see him drowned before her eyes.

Mally manages to drag Barty to shore after nearly losing her own life, but in the process something changes. She is exhausted with her efforts and needs to get Barty some help, but she is unable to move. She sits with his head in her lap and has a revelation of sorts:

Ever so gently she put her hand upon his hair to move it back from his face; and then she bent over his mouth to see if he breathed, and as she looked at him she knew that he was beautiful.

Obviously this is her moment of transformation, and it is believable because of the ordeal they endured together. Great emotions, such as the fear of dying, are capable of spurring other rushes of emotion, such as love.

Barty does not quite seem to have the hatred for Mally that she has for him; nevertheless, he certainly does not have any love for her until she saves his life. Again, life-changing events can create life-changing transformations.

The Gunliffes have every reason to dislike, even hate Mally, as she is a stumbling block to the success of their farm. They are quite quick to call Mally a murderer right to her face when she comes to tell them that their son has nearly died in an accident. Mrs. Gunliffe is especially verbal about her accusations, crying out that Mally has murdered her son. We understand this emotion and this reaction, as Barty is their only child and Mally is the easiest one to blame.

Their transformation is believable in the sense that it happens once they understand from Barty himself that she saved his life. Of course that would be a game-changer for any parent’s feelings, and it sure is for the Gunliffes.

What is most unbelievable about all of these transformations is the unlikely speed with which they happen; however, this is a short story and everything is rather compacted and concise. What happened is believable; how quickly it happens is less so. In a novel these transformations would have taken longer, but the result would undoubtedly be the same.

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