(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Burrow” opens with the successful completion of the burrow and the narrator claiming that he is no longer afraid, then immediately stating his fear that someone could inadvertently discover the opening of the burrow and “destroy everything for good.” Though at the zenith of his life, he cannot be tranquil, even in his burrow’s strongest, innermost chamber, for some unknown, unnamed enemy may be burrowing toward him. The narrator has the advantage of knowing all the burrow’s passages and each of its more than fifty rooms; he is, however, growing old. Not only do real, external enemies frighten him; so do legendary creatures of the inner earth, in whom he firmly believes. Still, the burrow is peaceful, and hunting the “small fry” that venture through it gives him a constant, if modest, food supply.

The narrator boasts particularly of his Castle Keep, the burrow’s chief cell, into the construction of which he has literally poured his life’s blood, pounding its walls with his forehead to harden them. In the Keep he has placed all of his food stores, the extent of which he now gloatingly contemplates. On the other hand, he sometimes fears that storing all of his food in one place may be disastrously wrong. At such times, he panics and feverishly redistributes it to several chambers, randomly. Then, reflecting on the problems with the scheme—and the cost to his conceit when he can no longer see all of his stores together—he puts them back in the Castle Keep, wishing now that he had planned and constructed several of them when he was younger. At times, the tempting smells of the stockpiled food overwhelm him: Gorging sessions ensue, followed by renewed guilt and recrimination.

Such lapses always lead to a review of the burrow’s entire plan, and his gluttony necessitates his leaving the burrow to restock it. As he approaches the elaborate labyrinth just inside the entrance, he feels both pride in this theoretically brilliant tour de force and fear that it could not sustain a serious attack. In any case, it is too late now to think seriously of constructing another, absolutely impregnable labyrinth; that would take a giant’s strength, of which he can only dream.

Exiting through the moss-covered trapdoor, he momentarily appreciates the freedoms of life outside: the better (if more difficult) hunting, the sense of bodily strength. However, he can never venture too far from the burrow; indeed, the thought of its presence sustains him. Even watching the entrance for days and nights on end reaffirms his sense of its safety: He has yet to see anyone investigating the front door. Admittedly, he has had to flee at the scent of any serious enemy, so he cannot be sure of their ignorance of or attitude toward the burrow. This very reflection on its safety inevitably leads him to consider its perils. He even briefly toys with the idea of going back to his pre-burrow existence, “one indiscriminate succession of perils,” but perils whose universality kept him from focusing on any particular one—as he now...

(The entire section is 1248 words.)