The Peach Stone

by Paul Horgan

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Style and Technique

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The story’s shifts in point of view enable juxtaposing two characters’ thoughts in order to bring out similarities and contrasts. For example, Cleotha’s observation of an orchard and her reverie on petals and peach stones contrast a faith opening up and out to the world with Arlene Latcher’s musing on her education and a painting of virgin martyrs, which reveals a belief in withdrawal from people and experience. As Miss Latcher’s reverie on the painting is escapist, so is Jodey’s mental review of his “fantastic scheme” for converting useless tumbleweed into salable fuel, these thoughts diverting his attention from the death of his daughter in the tumbleweed fire.

Horgan’s manipulation of point of view is also notable in the cryptic use of often-italicized personal pronouns, especially “she,” as well as in his concluding shift in verb tense. The former device helps convey Jodey’s guilty uneasiness for having been in part responsible for depriving his wife of their daughter. Thus, he tends to think of Cleotha obliquely as “she” and “her,” until, when he is absolved at the story’s close, Cleotha becomes “his wife” in Jodey’s thoughts. Also in the story’s last paragraphs the startling shift into the present tense helps vividly actualize the narrative statement about the graveside mourners, that “Everything left them but a sense of their worship, in the present.” The verb-tense shift thematically suggests the importance of heightened awareness of all of life, moment by moment.

The story is pervaded by symbolism. One symbolic pattern of imagery encompasses the repeated references to flora and fruitfulness. The journey’s destination is the town of Weed, the name of which suggests the paradox that out of waste something productive may come. Similarly hinting at this paradox are the coverlet of cross-stitched flowers spread on the baby’s coffin and the New Mexico white dust that settles over the car and its occupants in “an enriching film, ever so finely.” Cleotha’s meditations about her childhood notion that holding a peach stone long enough would cause its sprouting suggest again how hopeful belief and contact with the experiential world may bring life out of death. Further, Cleotha observes from the car an old blackened and twisted peach tree that with its one little top-shoot of green leaves affirms fertility in the midst of decay.

All the other occupants of the car are evaluated against this imagistic pattern as well. Buddy’s youth, innocence, vulnerability, and worth are conveyed by the description of him as having plum-red cheeks and the smell of a raw potato newly pared. Arlene Latcher’s struggle against the natural world is conveyed by the ironic metaphor of her summoning the “fruits of her learning” to keep from yielding to emotional involvement. Jodey’s part-hopeful, part-pessimistic personality is suggested by his visionary tumbleweed scheme as well as by his jocular musing just before the accident about “how far along the peaches would get before the frost killed them all, snap, in a single night.”

A final important symbolic strand is the religious or theological one, appropriate to a story exploring the meaning of life and death. The story’s repeated references to ascent—the road ascends to Weed and the car’s occupants must ascend Schoolhouse Hill at Weed—suggest the characters’ spiritual ascent. (Indeed, all the characters have a kind of revelation at the significantly named burial ground, Schoolhouse Hill.) Cleotha’s thinking that the peach stone tale was like a biblical parable about which she could preach a sermon recalls the synoptic Gospels’ parable of the mustard seed, which similarly is about the productive power of faith and engagement. Arlene Latcher thinks about an enormous painting...

(This entire section contains 712 words.)

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of the Roman slaughter of Christian virgins, which she ironically fails to realize should evoke her emotional response to the dead child. Last, the mysterious “ball of diamond-brilliant light” that the Powerses’ car follows up the ascending road for some time, though revealed to be probably a reflection off the back of a truck in the glaring sunshine of New Mexico, inevitably suggests the guiding star followed by the Magi. As the Magi’s journey ends, so does that of the occupants of the Powerses’ car in revelation and spiritual rebirth.