Erskine Caldwell Questions and Answers

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What is a critical review of "The Rumor"?

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A critical review of Erskine Caldwell's short story "The Rumor" would include a description or summary of the text, and an evaluation of the text.

First let's summarise the story.

Characters. The story itself is about Sam Billings, the owner of a summer hotel. The story is told, however, from the perspective of George Williams, the man who nominates him to be the town's treasurer. There is also Clyde Ballard, the owner of the town's store, and Jenny Russell, the woman who goes to Florida with Sam. The narrator does not give away very much information about the internal machinations of any of the characters.

Setting. The story is set in the small town of Androscoggin. Some conversations take place on Clyde Ballard's store, but mostly the story is told through exposition in which no specific location is given. The story is set over the period of a year, one fiscal year from the election of the town's new treasurer.

Plot. The events of this story are fairly straightforward: Sam Billings is elected treasurer and then goes to Florida for the winter with one of his employees to open a new hotel. While he is away, the people of Androscoggin spread rumors about him. The conflict of the story is in those rumors.

Themes. The main themes of this story are gossip and trust. The story examines how the townsfolk previously didn't trust their treasurers―because the other treasurers were just townsfolk, not chosen for their accounting or business prowess―and despite initially congratulating themselves for choosing Sam Billings, they go on to work themselves into a frenzy of gossip over nothing and come to completely distrust him. The person who nominated Sam and was his biggest champion, George Williams, becomes his biggest detractor; this shows how easily somebody can be influenced by gossip.

Now that we've summarized the text, we can move on to the evaluation.

This text is a comic text in that the events are not what they seem. The reader is led to believe, by the characters' conversations, that Sam Billings has ripped the townsfolk off and has "stolen" a woman. Because of the title of the story, the reader may have an inkling that all is not as it seems. The main character who the reader follows is George Williams; the reader watches George go back and forth in the way he talks about Sam Billings escalating the rumors and then finally coming full circle back to declaring that "[t]here never was a more honest man alive than Sam Billings."

In reality the reader has no idea what Sam did over the winter—whether he went to Florida or Cuba and whether he bought a new hotel. All we have are the words that other characters, who we know we cannot trust, say to each other. In this sense, the narrator is reliable, but it is the characters themselves who are unreliable.

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