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On the surface, at least, “The Pedersen Kid” is a relatively simple tale. A Scandinavian family, the Jorgensens, are trying to keep warm during a howling blizzard that has virtually rendered them snowbound. The family consists of Ma (Hed), a kindly, self-effacing woman, and Pa, a boorish, drunken lout who hides his whiskey bottles all over the house and expresses his displeasure by dumping the contents of his chamber pot on the heads of his victims. Jorge, their son and the narrator of the tale, fears and despises him, as does Big Hans, the hired hand who works for the family and lives in the house with them. It is Big Hans who finds the Pedersen kid, half-buried in a snowdrift in front of the Jorgensen farmhouse.

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Although he first seems to be dead (the first of many ambiguities in the story), Ma revives the young child (his exact age is another ambiguity—he could be two or even four years old) with the help of Big Hans and Jorge. Pa awakens, fuming as always, but eventually he, Big Hans, and Jorge determine to visit the Pedersen family to notify them of the child’s rescue—and to verify if they have been killed or put in the cellar by a mysterious character called “yellow gloves” by the Pedersen kid.

The bulk of the narrative is taken up by their visit to the Pedersen farm in the midst of the blinding blizzard, itself a kind of symbol for the confusion and ambiguity of the entire situation. Pa drops his whiskey bottle in the snow, and Jorge finds a dead horse, which they realize does not belong to Pedersen. They all conclude, without any real evidence, that the dead horse must have been ridden by the murderer of the Pedersens, although even the fact that the family has been murdered has not been established. The entire meaning of the story is revealed at that juncture, because Jorge (on whose point of view the reader is forced to rely) speculates that the horse may be the murderer’s, or it may belong to Carlson or Schmidt—nothing is clear.

Pa and Big Hans dig a tunnel to the barn, and finally all three of them stumble toward the house, but Jorge thinks that rifle shots have been fired, killing Big Hans and Pa. In any event, they fall behind in the snow, and Jorge makes no attempt to rescue them or to check on their condition, preferring the relative warmth of the Pedersen cellar (which contains no corpses) and the empty house. The story ends there, with Jorge riding out the storm, uncertain of his fate or that of his companions, because at any moment he could be eliminated by “that fellow.”

Like other precocious and highly imaginative narrators—Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield readily come to mind—Jorge invents a complex and often contradictory universe. Yet that world is always thrilling and vivid precisely because of its uncertainty. Like Jorge, the reader will want to thank the mysterious “yellow gloves” for the “glorious turn” he has given to what would have been a hopelessly ordinary little world.


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One stark winter morning after a snowstorm, Big Hans, the Segrens’ hired hand, finds the...

(The entire section contains 826 words.)

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