(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is narrated by a young woman getting over an unhappy love affair, who has come to a village in western Ireland as a substitute teacher. Fascinated with a widow whom everyone calls the “Creature,” she seeks to befriend the woman. During visits to the Creature’s house, the narrator is invariably served “a glass of rhubarb wine and sometimes a slice of porter cake” and hears the tales of the woman’s meager, sorrow-filled life. During these visits, she learns that the Creature has been long separated from her only son and nearest living child. The Creature tells her how the son, after a long absence, returned and married a woman to whom the Creature had great hopes of becoming close. She secretly hoped that her daughter-in-law would pare her corns after the two women became intimate friends.

It happened, however, that the daughter-in-law is a selfish and ill-tempered woman who becomes increasingly intractable as she begins to have children of her own. Finally, she goads the son into betraying his mother. Through the eyes of the narrator, the reader sees the Creature as a loving, self-effacing mother whose daughter has emigrated to Canada and whose surly, pessimistic son has a wife who persuades him to take over the small family farm. The son convinces his mother that the farm should be deeded to him. It had been the sole home of the Creature and her own mother, another widow, who helped rear the Creature’s children until she herself...

(The entire section is 445 words.)