The Robber Bridegroom

by Eudora Welty

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 786

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 virginity. When Clement brings Jamie to his home, Rosamond is so begrimed, in typical Cinderella fashion, that he does not recognize her. Moreover, since he is now the gentleman, with no berry juice on his face, he is not recognized by her. Salome, however, who sees traces of the berry juice, knows everything.

Rosamond tries to find out where Jamie lives, for after he has dishonored her, she feels pity for him. She finds the house of the bandit gang and, like Snow White at the house of the seven dwarfs, sets about cleaning it up. While being kept captive at the bandit hideout, she begs Jamie to wash the berry juice off his face so that she can know who he is. As in the classical Cupid and Psyche story, however, Jamie insists on keeping his other identity a secret.

Being so preoccupied with Rosamond, Jamie neglects Clement’s request to find the violator of his daughter, until once again he takes it up and runs into Big Harp and Little Harp. Big Harp is only a decapitated head, having lost his body to an executioner’s ax; Little Harp, who knows Jamie the bandit to be also Jamie the gentleman, uses this knowledge to blackmail Jamie and to move into his home. Rosamond returns to her father, telling him of her robber bridegroom, and Salome gives Rosamond a recipe to remove berry stains so that she might know his true identity. Little Harp tells the bandits that he is entitled to the bandit chief’s woman, but they get him an Indian girl instead,...

(This entire section contains 786 words.)

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whom he then brutally rapes and murders. Rosamond catches Jamie asleep, removes the berry stains, and discovers that he is only Jamie Lockhart; at the same time, he knows her to be Clement Musgrove’s silly daughter. Because of Rosamond’s distrust, Jamie runs away.

In a rapid series of events, Rosamond follows Jamie, Salome goes to the woods to try to find him to cut off his head, and Clement searches for his daughter and Jamie. All are captured by the Indians who seek to avenge the murder of the Indian girl. Goat frees them one by one, and Jamie and Little Harp fight until Little Harp is killed. Salome dies in an unsuccessful attempt to make the sun stand still by her dancing. Rosamond wanders through the woods until she arrives in New Orleans, meets Jamie Lockhart again, and they get married. In the spring, Clement Musgrove goes to New Orleans and finds them where they have everything they could want in the world. Thus, the story ends in typical “They lived happily ever after” fairy-tale fashion.