Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 815

Cress Delahanty, a remedial dance student, is chosen to appear in the Tenant City High School Folk-Dance Festival. The fourteen-year-old girl is thrilled that she has been selected to dance alongside Bernadine Deevers, Tenant City High School’s most gifted dancer, in the dance number “Road to the Isles.” She has a vision of dancing “not only the outward steps of the ’Road to the Isles’ but its inner meaning.” Cress feels that she has achieved one of the two great goals in the life of a Tenant High School student, the other being to have Bernadine for a friend. Now that Bernadine is coming to spend the weekend with her, Cress feels as if all of her life’s dreams are coming true.

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Every winter, since there is little work on the ranch, Mr. Delahanty embarks on a self-improvement program, an idea suggested and nurtured by Mrs. Delahanty. Then every spring he abandons the project as if he had never begun. Last year it was “A Schedule of Exercises to Ensure Absolute Fitness”; this schedule involved running six times around the orchard in short pants, his arms flailing and chest pumping—an embarrassing sight for Cress.

This year Mr. Delahanty’s schedule is a reading program from an encyclopedia for the purpose of acquiring all “Human Knowledge in a Year.” Mrs. Delahanty is always trying to help Mr. Delahanty to stay on his schedule—before breakfast, before lunch, before supper, and before bedtime. Cress is ashamed of this business of schedules: Her friend Bernadine is far too sophisticated for schedules, and Cress wants to see her parents become what Bernadine would want them to be. Further, Cress is worried that her father might mispronounce the dance numbers and embarrass her in front of Bernadine. Meekly, Mr. Delahanty suggests that he will not open his mouth in the presence of Cress’s friends.

Cress reminds her parents that they should address Bernadine as Nedra on Fridays. Naturally, her parents are inquisitive. Cress explains to them about the dubious origin of “Nedra”: Bernadine’s boyfriend Neddy, who owned two drugstores and to whom Bernadine said no on a Friday, died the following Friday. The Delahantys are amused and skeptical.

Bernadine comes the next day, Friday, to spend the weekend with Cress. They are getting ready for the folk-dance festival. While getting her costume on, Bernadine confides in Cress: Her parents also used to be like Cress’s. They went where Bernadine went and she stayed with them all the time. This year, however, she will not let them go with her to the dance festival because her father made a spectacle of himself, to her shame and chagrin, when he awkwardly danced the Hopak with Miss Ingols, the gym teacher. Bernadine now wants Cress to warn her parents not to make fools of themselves on the dance floor with Miss Ingols in public.

Cress goes to the kitchen to warn her parents. As she is about to open the kitchen door to the porch, she overhears her father and mother talking about her. Unseen by them, she listens. Her parents, especially her father, are very worried about her. Mr. Delahanty is afraid that his daughter, being clumsy in footwork, might make a fool of herself in public by falling on her ear during the dance. He could not bear it if his daughter should experience such a humiliation.

As Cress traces her steps back to her friend, she looks at herself in the bathroom mirror. “I look different,” she tells herself. She looks at her image again—it is blurred, wavering, and doubtful; it is no longer the triumphant face she imagined.

Cress tells Bernadine everything about her parents. Indeed, she is proud of them; she is no longer apologetic about her parents; she is not afraid to admit that her father keeps schedules. She proudly announces that her parents are concerned and worried about her because they care. Cress is no longer worried about what Bernadine thinks about her parents. When Bernadine tries to make fun of her father, she tells her to shut up. Cress has grown up.

Style and Technique

The consistent and clever use of the journey motif is the means whereby West achieves unity and coherence in the story. This is best illustrated by the story’s title, “Road to the Isles,” by the movement involved in the dance routine, by the trip to the festival, and by the transportation to the out-of-town game.

One important characteristic of West’s style in this story is that she portrays the world as an adolescent, Cress Delahanty, sees it. The reader is given the realistic impression that he or she is an unobserved spectator of the unfolding drama of Cress’s psychological development. In this regard, the reader is like Cress, who, unseen, listens in on her parents’ conversation about Bernadine and Cress.

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Themes