Father and I Summary
The short, recognizably autobiographical sketch appears merely to describe a Sunday walk in the country taken by a nine-year-old boy and his father and to be without complication in plot or narrative. This appearance is qualified, however, by complex perspective and a complexity of reactions detailed by the narrator as he recalls his first awareness of the life that he was to live.
The walk begins in bright afternoon sunshine, as the father takes his son by the hand. They wave good-bye to the mother, who returns to preparing the evening meal, and move off to the woods. There they listen to the singing of the birds and the sounds of nature, to which they are accustomed but for which they have never lost appreciation.
As they make their way along a railway line, they share a sensation of freedom and privilege. The father is free because it is Sunday and he does not have to work; and both are privileged to walk along the railway line, a route forbidden to others, because the father works for the railroad. This privilege is further established as a train passes by and the father signals a familiar greeting to its engineer. The narrator then notes an odd but pleasant combination of scents, those of field flowers and the tar on railroad ties. To this mixture of nature and technology the reader is offered the opportunity to add another: The narrator notes that the telegraph poles “sang”; this picks up the narrator’s note of the birdsong and combines the two types of song, one technological and one natural. Up to this point everything is harmonious under a clear sky on a beautiful day.
Mention of the clear sky and the beautiful day is then followed by intimations of discord. Scanning a field of oats, the father understands the perfection of the crop, but the son, whose orientation is town life, does not. As they cross a bridge over a stream pleasantly swollen by the springtime flood, they hold hands to lessen the danger of falling through the railroad ties. Each delight now includes its check of inharmony. A visit to the cottage of a railroad lineman, who provides them with a snack, and the father’s subsequent ascertainment of a semaphore’s position make it clear that the Sunday afternoon is not entirely free of chores. As they walk along a river, enjoying its beauty, the father is reminded of his own boyhood delight in perch-fishing there, an idyllic pleasure for which he now has no time. After a cheerful contest of throwing pebbles into the water, they grow tired and turn homeward.
(The entire section is 674 words.)