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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1328

In the first of the six sections that constitute this story, the third-person narrator defines a “terrain” that is at once external and internal. From the mountains of its origin to the flat plain of its mouth, the river poses a philosophical riddle of its own cycle of creation and destruction, which awaits the human sensibility “that shall then give all this a meaning.” The unnamed narrator then shifts abruptly to describe “a man who lives in a world bereft of its very nature.” As an individual, the man is incapable of reconciling his own alienated existence with his participation in the larger cycles of natural and human history. He “cannot conceive” of a contentment that comes from “the completeness of the above and the below and his own spirit resting in between.” Further, he is unaware even of his own alienation or of a contradiction within him; consequently, he “sits in nothing, in nothing, in nothing.”

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Although the second section continues the third-person narration, the mood and tone of the narrative voice become more familiar, even autobiographical, than they were in the first section. The scene shifts to a detailed but detached domesticity: a man, his wife, and his child. As the father, a skilled carpenter and a subsistence farmer, contemplates what he has accomplished, he meditates on the joy and futility that seem to possess him: “First lifted up, then weighed down—always he is so.” He delights in the beauty of ordinary events—the color of a sunset, the flight of birds, and the dance of insects—but he mourns the passing of the natural world. Despite a loving family and his domestic stability—he has built his own house, read books, planted fruit trees, educated his child, and provided food—the father seems to stand uncertainly “on the threshold” of spiritual identity, for he “imagines that in one hand he holds emptiness and yearning and in the other desire fulfilled.” Analogous to the first section, which offered a universalized figure, this section offers a particular man who succumbs to the futility of an amorphous but vast silence, to “Nothing.”

As the third section begins, the tone becomes even bleaker: The narrator recites a litany on the inevitability, the ultimacy of death. The mood deepens from futility to despair as the narration changes in mid-paragraph to the first-person interior monologue of the man, who decides that “life is the intrusion,” and, subsequently, so, too, is his sense of beauty and truth in his own accomplishments and in his love for his family, an intrusion into the absolute context of death. Sorrow, grief, and regret as well as joy, innocence, and knowledge are “bound to death.” The speaker here, however, claims to regret, not this awareness of the pervasive presence of death, but the powerlessness of “my will, to which everything I have ever known bends.” The fragility of human will and achievement constitutes despair, not the fact of death itself.

Midway through this third section, a folk parable intervenes in the manner of a riddle. An exotic caterpillar is stung by a honeybee; its pain becomes pleasure as it balances “remembering and forgetting” in its life “inside and outside” the mound in which it lives, until it vanishes, leaving only a faint glow in the darkness around it. The speaker, still in the first-person voice, says that she has “divined this” and wishes to share her knowledge with “a monument to it, something of dust”; yet this interior monologue is not that of the man, her father, but that of the daughter, who feels that she has been mocked by her father’s explanation: “Death is natural.” She rejects death as a natural occurrence: “Inevitable to life is death and not inevitable to death is life.” In her own echoic...

(The entire section contains 1328 words.)

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