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The Falls Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Falls” moves back and forth between the third-person perspectives of two men—Morse, a self-doubting, apprehensive family man, and Aldo Cummings, a writer who feels sure the world will someday discover him and accord him the acclaim he feels he is due. Most of the story takes place in the minds of the men as they stroll along the Taganac River, until an event unfolds that snaps each of the men from his self-absorption.

The story opens with Morse walking home past the St. Jude Catholic school. The reader is quickly introduced to the state of Morse’s mental affairs as he deliberates over whether he should smile at the young girls playing in the St. Jude lawn and playground—and possibly be thought a pervert—or frown and be thought grouchy. Caught in this quandary, Morse tries to maintain an expression between friendliness and impassivity, while trying to always maintain what Morse sees as the most important characteristic a person can have: humility.

As Morse continues on toward his home, his internal speculations reveal more and more of his character. He lives in a small rental house with his wife, Ruth, and his son and daughter. As he worries about not being able to afford a piano for his son who is taking lessons (their piano having lately been repossessed), the reader senses that Morse is a man who feels he has failed on many levels. He has failed to gain financial and professional accomplishments, he has failed to be a successful breadwinner for his family, and he believes he has failed to be a good father and a good husband.

In contrast, Aldo Cummings, who snubs Morse when they pass each other, considers himself a starving artist. He spends each step of his walk constructing writerlike descriptions of the walk itself, even as his mind wanders further and further from the walk and into fantasies. For example, he tells himself that he will have to remember to bring a blank yellow writing pad with him to capture the whimsical literary creations spawned during his walk, and perhaps one day when he becomes a famous writer, his yellow pad will be a collector’s item, and thus many women would want to meet him.

As each man continues along his way, the reader sees how their lives are contrasted. In the eyes of society, Morse is at least somewhat successful: He has a job, is married, and has children; however, as he walks, his self-doubt and certainty of failure plague him. His son Robert is not as kind, smart, or talented as their young Pakistani neighbor, Ben; in fact, Robert reminds Morse of the bullies who assaulted him when he was a young man. What if his daughter Annie grows up to bring home horrible boys? How can he keep his wife happy, who once had an infatuation with their son Robert’s...

(The entire section is 751 words.)