Analysis

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The title of White's short story points the reader toward the sort of story it is. In retrospect, the idea that Miss Caldwell has been merely "rattled" is a ludicrous one: Miss Caldwell has become so frightened that she has committed suicide in the middle of the desert because she feared herself under ambush by hostile Indians. But to describe her as "rattled" is typical of the dark humor White employs throughout. His tone is tongue-in-cheek; he observes that his bashful Alfred would simply have "bashfully killed" the obnoxious Allen if he had been under any other circumstances. The reader is invited to sympathize, nonetheless, with Alfred, a "little" man who is widely known throughout the whole of the West and yet who is, upon first glance, so small as to be often mistaken for a child.

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That Alfred has no luck with women is clear. The narrative suggests that a strong man in this day and age would be one who could tell a woman what to do, or at least tell her when he felt she was putting herself in danger. For Alfred, even this seems beyond reach. He would not be able to tell a woman she was in danger of walking into quicksand without feeling guilty about it. This makes those who are unfamiliar with him treat him as a joke. Allen, quite clearly, seems to believe that Alfred's stories are fictitious. He cruelly challenges him on them, and then he and his betrothed, Miss Caldwell, laugh about Alfred together. They do not take Alfred seriously. They believe him to be weak and incompetent.

Those who are familiar with the landscape of the West, however, have a better opinion. They recognize that Alfred is very widely known and widely respected, including Mr. Caldwell, who has invited Alfred along to protect him and his daughter. But much as Miss Caldwell does not realize the value of Alfred, she also does not seem to recognize the danger she is in out in the middle of nowhere. She laments that she is told what to do by other men and that she is not able to freely ride out into the desert as others might. She draws a not-irrational association in her mind: because she feels she has been unfairly told what to do in her earlier life, for no reason, those who tell her to stay with the wagon train now may be being equally irrational. As such, she is happy to ride out on her own, giving her betrothed, Allen, the slip, in order to enjoy her freedom.

The irony of the story is that at the last moment, it is Alfred, who cannot speak directly to women, who tells Miss Caldwell what to do: Miss Caldwell, who is so...

(The entire section contains 717 words.)

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