(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ruby, a southern woman, has come in from the rain and is drying herself off and talking to herself. The scene is a primitive and remote cabin, perhaps in the author’s native Mississippi. That she talks to herself so easily indicates that she is used to being alone. She cries out in astonishment that the sample of coffee on the table is wrapped in newspaper, and the narrator relates that “She must have been lonesome and slow all her life, the way things would take her by surprise.”

Ruby suffers from cabin fever, a depression resulting from a nearly total isolation from the world, a condition often afflicting the rural poor in a time when modern transportation and communication did not extend to them. Ruby seldom sees anyone other than her husband, and she has no radio or telephone to fill the void. With little stimulation from the outside, the newspaper becomes a delightful diversion. She spreads it out before the fire and is astonished by so many words, and at best she can only trace out a few of them. Suddenly her own name leaps out from the page: Ruby Fisher! With difficulty she reads the short and utterly ambiguous announcement: “Mrs. Ruby Fisher had the misfortune to be shot in the leg by her husband this week.”

Ruby does not realize that this is merely a coincidence of names. In her ignorance and superstition, she is trapped in a primitive confusion between a symbol and what that symbol represents, just as primitive people sometimes believe that the spirit of a person is contained in the name. Her name on the page has a powerful magic far greater than her own feeble authority. Her first reaction is fear and anger. How could her husband Clyde do such...

(The entire section is 690 words.)