(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Left to his own devices for the day, Shan decides to seek revenge on snakes for the bite received by his friend Roy Deer, whose family Shan’s mother visits to pay a condolence call. Given his freedom, the boy states, “I would like to be a man now. . . . I’d love to plow the mules, run a farm, and kill snakes.” Much of the action of the remainder of the story involves Shan’s playing at being a man, a common adolescent fantasy. He breaks a club from the wild plum thicket close to his home and wades the creek to search for water moccasins to kill.

His knowledge of his prey is rich beyond his years, attesting his experience with nature. For example, he plans his strategy for slaughter by relying on the knowledge that it is impossible for the water moccasins to bite him while their heads are beneath the water. Too, the snakes will raise their heads above the surface if the water is muddy, a fact that he turns to his advantage by stirring up the bottom frequently. Though he experiences fear concerning the danger of his hunt, not once does the boy exhibit any pity or compassion for his victims. One of their kind has bitten his friend without cause, and Shan takes on himself the duty of wreaking revenge on the whole race of poisonous serpents. Stealth and knowledge serve him well, and by the end of the afternoon he has killed fifty-three water moccasins. On his way home, after leaving the creek, Shan comes on two other poisonous snakes, copperheads....

(The entire section is 478 words.)