(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Ambitious Guest” begins in a moment of great tranquillity, with a family cozily gathered around their hearth. Father and mother, eldest daughter and aged grandmother, are briefly described as assuming the guises of persons of their ages who are filled with great contentment. Although they are entirely comfortable, mention is made of the harsh winter weather and the dangerous position of the cottage, over which towers a mountain. The noise of stones tumbling down the mountain has often startled the family at midnight.

Throughout the story, a contrast is made between the cozy harmony within and the stormy conditions of nature outside. The wind rattles their door, and they are glad of the company of a young traveler, who proceeds to make himself at home in the welcome atmosphere of the friendly family.

The Ambitious Guest is “frank-hearted” and quickly engages the family in a discussion of his plans to make a reputation for himself. He finds in them a responsive mood that encourages his conversation about how a person must make his mark on life. As they are caught up in his enthusiasm, several family members express very personal feelings about their lives. The father would like a better property and a better title (Squire)—in short, a station in life that would command the respect of his community. One of the younger children, excited by all this discussion of life’s possibilities, calls out to his mother that he would like...

(The entire section is 551 words.)