Part 1 Summary

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The short story ‘‘He’’ starts with a brief description of the poverty in which the Whipples live. Very quickly, the narrator makes it known that Mr. and Mrs. Whipple have two different ways of deal ing with their lack of material wealth. The narrator implies that Mr. Whipple leans toward the pessimistic side of life, bemoaning his fate and seeing no way out of it. Mrs. Whipple, on the other hand, tends to take ‘‘what was sent and calling it good,’’ at least this is her attitude whenever she is in the company of neighbors, or even within ‘‘earshot’’ of them. This clues the reader that Mrs. Whipple is into the appearance of things, working toward the goal of making her family appear to be in the good graces of life, even if she must suffer to do so. Appearances are important to her in part because she cannot ‘‘stand to be pitied.’’

Immediately following this description of the mother and father, the narrator declares that Mrs. Whipple loves her second son, even more so than she loves her ‘‘other two children put together.’’ At times, Mrs. Whipple is so drawn to making sure that everyone understands how much she loves her son that she would also declare that she loves him more than all her family members put together. Mr. Whipple reminds her that she does not have to make such statements so often, not that anyone would suspect otherwise, but rather that other people might begin to think that he, Mr. Whipple, in contrast, does not love his son at all.

The child to whom they are referring is simply called ‘‘He.’’ The narrator refers to this boy as ‘‘the simple-minded one.’’ The neighbors, behind the Whipples’ backs, blame the father’s bad blood for having produced such a child. To the Whipples’ faces, the neighbors encourage the parents, searching for positive comments, such as: ‘‘Look how He grows!’’

Mrs. Whipple is uncomfortable talking about her mentally handicapped son. However, whenever anyone comes to the house, the conversation always turns to him. Once the conversation is started, Mrs. Whipple talks about the positive attributes that He has, such as the fact that He never gets hurt. She attributes this feat to something that a preacher once told her about the innocent walking with God. Mrs. Whipple took this to mean that God was sheltering her son. It is through this thought that she can accept her son, be proud of him, at least in her conversations with her neighbors.

There are other reasons that Mrs. Whipple has created to help her accept her son. He never whines for food like her other children. He works harder and never complains, even when he gets stung by the bees when he gathers their honey. When her other children get cold in the winter, Mrs. Whipple takes His blanket off of him and gives it to one of her other children. He never, Mrs. Whipple believes, ‘‘seemed to mind the cold.’’

Mrs. Whipple does worry about him sometimes, though; especially when neighbors come over and tell her that she should keep him from climbing trees, fearing He might hurt himself because He does not know what He is doing. This angers Mrs. Whipple for two reasons. She is well aware that He could fall, and this does make her feel some concern. However, at the same time, she is also proud that He can climb so well. She even thinks that He is as agile as a monkey. She does not need to have the neighbors remind her to be worried...

(This entire section contains 733 words.)

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about Him, though, and she particularly does not need to have the neighbors state that He does not know what he is doing. This is an insult that Mrs. Whipple cannot stand. Contradicting her emotions, after the neighbors leave, Mrs. Whipple calls him out of the tree and beats him for acting in such a way in front of the neighbors.

Later, Mr. Whipple makes the statement that the reason that He does not complain when he gets hurt or when he is cold or hungry is because He does not have the sense to complain. Mrs. Whipple, of course, berates Mr. Whipple for having made such a statement. What would the neighbors think if they heard him say such things? They might think that Mr. Whipple loves his other children better.

Part 2 Summary

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Mrs. Whipple receives a letter from her brother, which states that he, his wife, and two children are planning a visit on the following weekend. In the letter, her brother makes the statement, ‘‘Put the big pot in the little one,’’ insinuating that she needs to squeeze things together in order to make room for his family. Mrs. Whipple is insulted by this remark and immediately declares that her husband will have to kill one of the suckling pigs. This is, of course, a sign of luxury because if they waited until the pigs were fully grown, they would receive more money for the animal when they took it to the market.

Mr. Whipple is indignant. He knows how wasteful it is to kill a pig before its prime and says so. Mrs. Whipple complains that she does not want her brother and his wife going back home and telling everyone that the Whipples did not have enough food to feed them; so Mr. Whipple relents, but he refuses to be the one who kills the piglet.

Mrs. Whipple knows that her other son, Adna, is too afraid to snatch the piglet away from its mother, so she tells He to do it. He has no trouble running away from the sow and hands the baby pig to his mother, who promptly slices through its neck. At the sight of blood, He runs away. Mrs. Whipple is not concerned, believing that He will forget all about the slaughter and will enjoy the meal when the piglet is cooked. At this point of the story, Mrs. Whipple reveals some of her real feelings about He. She remarks that He would eat the whole pig if she allowed him and not save any for his brother and sister. He is three times bigger than Adna, his older brother, and Mrs. Whipple suggests that it is a shame He is so large and healthy, while Adna is the one with all the brains.

In preparation for her brother, Mrs. Whipple makes sure that her children are clean. However, before her brother arrives, He has already dirtied his clothes, and Mrs. Whipple hits him in his head with her fists. ‘‘I get tired trying to keep you decent,’’ she tells him. Later, when she looks at the expression on his face, she feels bad for having hit him.

When the brother and his family arrive and sit down to dinner, He will not come into the dining room. Mrs. Whipple makes excuses for him, stating that He is shy. She then fixes a plate for him, impressing upon her brother that she always makes sure that He is fed before the others. Mr. Whipple tries to scold Mrs. Whipple after the brother leaves, reminding her how much that dinner cost them. Mrs. Whipple finds consolation at first by stating that her brother and his family were good people for they had not made one rude comment all night, either about He or about the Whipples poverty. Mr. Whipple says that anyone coming to dinner would have shown as much courtesy, but who is to know what they will say when they get home. Mrs. Whipple loses her composure and says that she wishes she were dead.

He slips on some ice a few winters later, and when He falls down, He does not get back up. His legs and arms thrash around him because he is having some kind of a fit. The Whipples call the doctor, but eventually the doctor concludes that He will never get any better and suggests that the Whipples put He into a nursing home. Mrs Whipple does not like this suggestion because it means that she is accepting charity. However, Mr. Whipple convinces her that it is the best thing they can do.

On the day that He leaves for the sanitarium, Mrs. Whipple dresses in her best clothes. She sits in the back seat of the wagon as a neighbor drives her and her son away. In the midst of the travels, Mrs. Whipple notices that He is rubbing his face and is astonished to discover that He is crying. At first she feels bad about this, realizing that He does have feelings. If He experiences emotions, that means that every time Mrs. Whipple was mean to him, he must have felt bad then, too. Quite quickly, though, Mrs. Whipple dismisses her thoughts and her feelings of guilt. She has the other children to think about. The story ends with Mrs. Whipple thinking ‘‘Oh, what a mortal pity He was ever born.’’