Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bruce’s Station

Bruce’s Station. Large Kentucky fort in which the novel opens. The fort is protected by a blockhouse at each corner of its walls. In addition to serving as a barometer of settler-Indian relations, the station stands in stark symbolic opposition to the forest itself, with its Shawnee threat, since the fort’s occupants have destroyed the forest near it to plant fields of corn, although still “all beyond and around was a dark and solemn wilderness.” The settlement’s attempt to push back that wilderness by girdling, or cutting broad swaths of bark away from the trunks of the trees to slowly kill them, leaving them “girdled and leafless, but not yet fallen,” is evocative of their hatred for the lurking Shawnee, as well as symbolic of the supposedly doomed status of the American Indians themselves.

Beech grove

Beech grove. As Captain Roland and his cousin Edith leave the station, they begin to journey toward the river ford through the forests. As strange cries begin to echo through the forest, the result of Ralph Stackpole’s attempt to summon someone to free him from his lynching, the author deliberately builds suspense in a decidedly theatrical and overtly gothic fashion, as the forests grow even darker, an effect “peculiarly fitted to add double effect to sights and sounds of a melancholy or fearful character.”

Ashburn cabin

Ashburn cabin. Small family fort on a cliff overlooking a river where Captain Roland’s party takes refuge while fleeing from a Shawnee war party. The cabin...

(The entire section is 652 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bryant, James C. “The Fallen World in Nick of the Woods.” American Literature 38 (November, 1966): 352-364. Analyzes the novel’s plot as being a struggle between demonic barbarians and civilized Christians with an emphasis on the fact that, in an imperfect world, even the “children of light” are flawed. Discusses three major interpretations for Nathan Slaughter’s dual personality.

Cowie, Alexander. The Rise of the American Novel. New York: American Book Company, 1948. A good introductory appraisal of Bird’s career. Discusses the author’s fictional works in the context of other significant contemporaries and followers of James Fenimore Cooper.

Dahl, Curtis. Robert Montgomery Bird. New York: Twayne, 1963. The only comprehensive book-length study of Bird’s literary canon—poetry, plays, novels, and prose works. Discusses Nick of the Woods in the context of the author’s other “novels of outlaws and Indians.” Features a selective bibliography.

Hall, Joan Joffe. “Nick of the Woods: An Interpretation of the American Wilderness.” American Literature 35 (May, 1963): 173-182. Focuses on the character of Nathan Slaughter and his internal moral conflict. Places Nick of the Woods in the context of wilderness novels by James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville.

Hoppenstand, Gary. “Justified Bloodshed: Robert Montgomery Bird’s Nick of the Woods and the Origins of the Vigilante Hero in American Literature and Culture.” Journal of American Culture 15, no. 2 (Summer, 1992): 51-61. Traces the evolution of the American vigilante hero from Bird’s Nathan Slaughter to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Argues that Bird’s negative depiction of the American Indian can be justified in literary terms since a revenge narrative requires that there be villainy to sanction retributive violence.