(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Mr. Flood’s Party,” which first appeared in The Nation and later in Avon’s Harvest (1921), is a sad portrait of a friendless man who has witnessed “many a change” and has now outlived his time. Eben feels that he has lived too long. The harvest moon he sees underscores his situation. Harvested crops have a use at the end of their cycle, whereas Eben has outlived the late-autumn stage of his life and is of no use to anyone, not even to himself. The townspeople do not welcome him, probably because they think he is a mere drunk. He is so lonely that, tipsy with drink on the way to his empty hilltop house, he talks to himself as if he were two people celebrating together.

There is, however, more to Eben Flood than meets the townspeople’s eye. Despite his name’s close sound to “ebb and flow,” they do not think about what ups and downs he may have experienced in his life. Unlike the townsfolk, readers overhear Eben and learn that he believes everyone leads “uncertain lives” in a hard world where precious “things break” all too easily. When he says this, he is remembering the loss of his family and his many long-gone friends.

In his younger years, Eben apparently possessed an appreciation of the arts, especially poetry. He still quotes from folk poet Robert Burns (“For auld lang syne”) and Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (“the bird is on the wing”). Now his birdlike inner spirit lifts up with drink instead of verse. However, it is a sorry substitute, “like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.” In the epic poem The Song of Roland, young Roland blew his ivory horn to summon help from his king; in contrast, old Eben’s raised jug in the night far from town is a hopeless gesture silently summoning only cheerless memories.