(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Death in the Woods” ostensibly concerns a farm woman, Mrs. Grimes, who, although only in her early forties, seems old and probably demented. She has no first name in the story, and, indeed, very little is known about her at all. The narrator, a man who remembers and re-creates the story’s events from his childhood, tries to put together the few things that he actually does know. Through this re-creation, he searches for meaning and for completion. He needs the events to make sense.

“The old woman was nothing special,” the narrator remembers. “She was one of the nameless ones that hardly anyone knows, but she got into my thoughts.” In her youth, the woman had been a bound girl, practically a slave to a harsh German farmer and his wife. Her job was to feed the stock and to cook for the couple. Her life with them was very unhappy. “She was a young thing then and scared to death,” the narrator says. In addition to the demands of her work, she was sometimes the victim of the farmer’s sexual advances. One day he had chased her into the barn and torn away the front of her dress before he was stopped by the sound of his wife’s returning. In such a situation, the girl looked desperately for any means of escape. Thus, when Jake Grimes, the wastrel son of a failed sawmill owner, offered to marry her, she accepted.

The woman’s new life, however, was hardly an improvement over the former. Settled on a new farm, she again became a servant, first to her husband and later to her son. She soon withdrew into silence and routine, a deadly existence in which she was abused by her family and ignored by all others. “They left everything at home for her to manage and she had no money,” the narrator says. “She knew no one. No one ever talked to her in town.”

The central episode of the old woman’s story occurs on a cold winter day. As is her custom, she makes her solitary trek into the village for the meager supplies for which she can barter and the scraps of liver and dog meat that the butcher sometimes gives her out of pity. On her way home, toward the end of day, the snow begins to fall, and by the time she reaches the woods, she is exhausted. Struggling along the forest path, she comes to a clearing and stops there to rest, despite...

(The entire section is 931 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The narrator of ‘‘Death in the Woods’’ introduces the central character of the story: an anonymous old woman who periodically comes...

(The entire section is 733 words.)