A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

In A Long Way From Chicago, what caused a commotion at Shotgun's wake?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Shotgun is buried, a layer of gauze is attached to the outside of the open lid down the front of the coffin to provide a veil. He had not been very fresh when his body was discovered. A reporter attends the wake, and Grandma, as the author writes, "was putting on the best show possible to pull wool over the reporter's eyes" (page 12). Grandma Dowdel does not think well of strangers like the reporter and wants to play a joke on him.

As everyone is starting to doze off, the mourners hear a slight noise, such as a rustle, and then the gauze covering Shotgun's body begins to ripple and even gets wrinkled into a wad. It is as if someone is reaching out from beyond the grave to cause these movements. Grandma runs off to grab her 12-gauge Winchester and fires off some rounds for the reporter's benefit. Grandma had seen her cat climb into Shotgun's grave, and it was the cat's motions of batting at the gauze that had caused it to wrinkle. Grandma used the cat to scare Effie Wilcox, who was attending the wake, and the reporter. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the book, a great commotion was caused at Shotgun's wake when the gauze that hung over the open coffin moved mysteriously. As the gauze began rippling and puckering on one end, the vigil attendees became visibly frightened. The suddenly mobile hearse cloth had changed a respectable vigil into a seemingly macabre, paranormal experience; it gave the impression that the deceased man was desperately trying to come back to life.

When the reporter realized what was happening, he miraculously snapped out of his alcohol-induced stupor. It was at this time that Grandma Dowdel grabbed her twelve-gauge Winchester rifle and fired off both barrels. She blew the lid off the coffin and sprayed bullets above the heads of the terrified mourners. The reporter was so terrified that he didn't dare find his way to the door. Instead, he leaped out the window, screaming that the dead had come back to life and Grandma Dowdel was shooting at him.

Meanwhile, the narrator and his grandmother were presumably the only ones who saw her tomcat flee from the inside of the coffin after the bullets flew. The narrator surmised that his grandmother must have gotten some ideas when she initially saw her cat enter the coffin. So, in the story, the commotion was actually caused by Grandma Dowdel's cat. The old woman just took advantage of her cat's antics to create even more commotion by shooting off both barrels of her rifle.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial