(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This deceptively simple novel is both a bit of American folklore which depicts the rough-and-tumble life of the frontier and a satiric fairy tale which draws from and parodies the tales of the Brothers Grimm. As is typical of fairy tales, the story is highly plotted. It begins when Clement Musgrove, an innocent planter, meets Jamie Lockhart, a bandit, and Mike Fink, the famous folklore figure, at an inn. When Jamie saves Clement from being murdered and robbed by Fink, Clement tells Jamie of his past, when his first wife and his two sons were captured, tortured, and killed by the Indians. Only his daughter Rosamond remains, and he has remarried an ugly woman named Salome, whom the Indians did not kill because they were afraid of her. The relationship between Rosamond and Salome—the beautiful young girl and the evil stepmother—is right out of “Cinderella” and “Snow White”: “If Rosamond was as beautiful as the day, Salome was as ugly as the night.” Salome harasses Rosamond, who in turn fights this by creating her own fantasy world; even though she means only to tell the truth, lies fall out of her mouth like “diamonds and pearls.”

The witch-like Salome has, as witches often do, her familiar, a foolish young man who, because of his habit of butting his way out the door when his mother locks him in, is named Goat. Salome hires Goat to follow Rosamond and to “finish her off” if he finds the chance. The plot begins in earnest when Jamie Lockhart, dressed as a robber rather than as a gentleman, complete with berry juice stains on his face as a disguise, encounters Rosamond in the woods and robs her of all her clothes, making her go home “naked as a jaybird.” When Clement hears of this, he goes to get Jamie to avenge his daughter’s honor. In the meantime, Jamie once more carries Rosamond off into the forest and robs her “of that which he had left her the day before”—that is, her...

(The entire section is 786 words.)