"The Girl Who Got Rattled" Themes

The main themes in “The Girl Who Got Rattled” are appearance versus reality, the city versus the wilderness, and gender trouble.

  • Appearance versus reality: Through Miss Caldwell and Allen’s misjudgment of Alfred, the story presents the perils of judging others on outward appearances alone.
  • The city versus the wilderness: The city-dwelling Miss Caldwell also gravely misjudges the dangers of the wilderness, while Alfred, in contrast, knows the prairie extremely well.
  • Gender trouble: Alfred and Miss Caldwell in some ways subvert traditional gender stereotypes, yet White problematically suggests that women do need men to protect them.

Themes

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Appearance versus Reality

One of the major themes in this story is the danger of judging a book by its cover. In this case, the book is Alfred, whose cover suggests to the world that he is a small, bashful, eccentric, and generally ineffectual man. Alfred is shy and struggles to communicate with others, particularly women. He is so mild-mannered and small of stature that he is often mistaken for a child. Those who are unfamiliar with Alfred, including Miss Caldwell and Allen, make fun of him: Allen is so infuriating to Alfred that he would happily have killed him under different circumstances. However, it is here that we see the point White is making. If Allen knew that Alfred was such a dangerous man, he would not treat him the way that he does; he would not make Alfred a figure of fun for him and Miss Caldwell to laugh about. But Stewart's argument is that we should never make the mistakes that Allen and Miss Caldwell are making here in their discussions about Alfred and how odd he is. They have made an incorrect judgment based on Alfred's appearance and mannerisms, and determined that Alfred is neither dangerous nor effective. Those who do not know Alfred know that this is not the case. Alfred is extremely well respected and known to have killed many men. He knows the landscape of the West better than anybody, and he is a highly efficient scout. Allen and Miss Caldwell should have inferred this from the fact that Alfred was chosen by Mr. Caldwell to go on the expedition with them, but they do not. It isn't until it is too late that they realize they should not have mocked Alfred. Alfred is the only one who can protect them, but he cannot protect them from themselves.

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The City versus the Wilderness

White draws a distinction between not only the city and the wilderness, but also those who know the city and those who know the wilderness. Part of Miss Caldwell and Allen's foolishness is not only in misjudging Alfred, a person who lives his life in the dangerous prairielands, but also in misjudging the prairielands themselves. Alfred is in his element: this is where he lives, hunts, kills, and survives. Those who are familiar with him in this context, including Mr. Caldwell, are aware that Alfred has become part of this terrain. He is able to cope with its dangers, and he is highly effective. However, Miss Caldwell and Allen are city people. Clearly, Miss Caldwell underestimates the dangers that lie in the wilderness. She has...

(The entire section contains 732 words.)

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