The Prospectors Summary
The story begins with the first-person narrator and her friend Clara taking a chairlift to a ski resort in the mountains above Lucerne, Oregon. They have been waiting to meet a French boy called Eugene de la Rochefoucauld, whom they met a week before and who invited both of them to the gala opening of the Evergreen Lodge, a prestigious new resort overlooking the town. After almost an hour’s wait, at sunset, the two women (they are nineteen and twenty-two) decide to go to the party without Eugene.
The story is set in the 1930s, and the Evergreen Lodge is to be one of President Roosevelt’s most magnificent New Deal projects to lift the country out of the Great Depression. The narrator and Clara, both of whose fathers were obsessed with the Klondike Gold Rush, work together as “prospectors.” They have no money and no means of support, so they use their youth, their attractiveness, and some social connections of Clara’s to get themselves invited to parties at grand houses, where they then steal what they can from “the closets and jewelry boxes of our hosts.” They begin this criminal career in Florida, but Clara is being physically abused by someone there (she refuses to tell the narrator who is doing this). When she turns up one day with two black eyes, they set off across America, living off wealthy men they meet and stealing whatever they can. Eventually, in winter, they end up in Oregon.
This is told in retrospect, as the women ascend the mountain via chairlift. They arrive at the party and are plied with drinks. Suddenly, Clara notices that they are the only women in the room. There are none of the socialites they had expected to see. All the twenty-six male hosts and guests appear to be men who worked on building the resort, “masons and blacksmiths and painters and foresters.”
When one of them mentions “the Emerald Lodge” and appears never to have heard of the Evergreen Lodge, the narrator realizes that they must have taken the wrong chairlift. The Emerald Lodge was crushed by an avalanche two years earlier, killing the twenty-six men who were working there. This means that not only are they at the wrong lodge, but all their hosts and fellow guests are dead—ghosts of the workers who were killed two years ago.
The women retire to the powder room to decide what to do. Clara sees no reason to abandon their usual procedure. Even though their hosts are dead:
We’ll charm them. We’ll drink a little, dance a little. And then, come dawn, we’ll escape down the mountain.
The women return to the party and pretend to be enjoying it. The narrator meets a boy named Lee and kisses him, saying “it felt no different from kissing a living mouth.” However, she is frightened when he calls her by real name, Jean, instead of Candy, the false name with which she generally introduces herself. Her legal name is Aubergine, which her parents gave her because they thought it sounded glamorous. When they discovered it was...
(The entire section is 801 words.)