A Piece of News Summary
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 a thing to her? She calls to him, but Clyde is at the whiskey still in the woods, waiting out the thunderstorm.
Slowly she starts to understand what has happened. In talking to herself, she concludes that Clyde, however he may have mistreated her, has never shot her in the leg. She reflects on the times she has gone out to the road to stop cars and to lure the drivers to the cotton gin shed. Even when Clyde had found out about it, he did no more than slap her.
Ruby’s mind runs imaginatively to wild melodrama. What if Clyde did shoot her, not just in the leg, but in the heart? She projects her own death scene, in which she lies beautiful, desirable, and dead. At her death, Clyde will feel a terrible repentance. He will have to buy her a dress to bury her in, and he will appreciate her as he looks on her grave.
(The entire section is 690 words.)