Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story is a variation on the familiar motif of the trickster tricked, a plot pattern that can be traced back to dozens of folktales, in which a person with a reputation for shrewd bargaining outsmarts himself and loses everything. A successful higgler must be able to recognize a bargain and must be willing to extract advantageous terms from the person with whom he higgles. (Mrs. Witlow, also a higgler, is “perhaps more enlightened” than Harvey; it is “almost a misfortune to get into her clutches.”) However, Harvey, who is presented with the opportunity of marrying a beautiful, well-educated girl who not only cares about him but also is heir to a prosperous farm and a cash legacy, misses the opportunity because he suspects that there is a trick where there really is none. It is small wonder that he is not successful as a higgler except when he can draw on the resources of the Sadgrove farm.

As the trickster-tricked motif is usually developed, the reader delights to see the trickster outsmarted, or, better yet, outsmart himself by being too shrewd. In this story, however, the reader’s sympathies lie with Harvey, who is clearly a decent young man, but one who misses a great bargain by suspecting a catch where there is none.