Although Bailey’s story is humorous, the themes that it addresses are serious. Thought-provoking and at times troubling ideas about womanhood, community, and individualism emerge from the small doll’s lively adventures. The strong literary qualities of the story give those ideas eloquence and force.
Miss Hickory is an engaging and well-developed character. Sharp-nosed, keen-eyed, and plainspoken at times to the point of rudeness, she is an “intelligent spinster” type, a self-reliant single female with strong opinions and practical abilities. Although the main body of the narrative celebrates Miss Hickory’s independence and resourcefulness, the ending translates these qualities into “selfishness” and “hardheadedness,” punishing her with death by beheading. There is an unmistakable element of horror in the spectacle of Miss Hickory’s severed head recalling the experiences of the past winter in a derogatory light, even characterizing her mentorship of the ladies’ aid society as “vanity.” Disturbing, too, is the text’s portrayal of this mutilation as an act of liberation. No longer “hampered” by her head, Miss Hickory’s brainless twig body climbs a tree and happily subsides into somnolent fertility as a scion.
Critic Lois Rostow Kuznets interprets the Squirrel’s consumption of Miss Hickory’s head as a symbolic rape, a masculinist scenario in which a woman finds her ultimate fulfillment in mindless, submissive reproductive activity. The idealization of self-sacrificial fertility is reinforced by the appearance of the doe in the Christmas procession. Both the doe and the...
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