Themes and Meanings
This novel seems so childlike and simple that one is tempted to think it carries no theme at all, but that it is rather merely an extremely well-done satire of fairy tale conventions. Welty herself once said that the story came from “a lifetime of fairy-tale reading.” Nevertheless, there are two underlying themes in the work—a cultural one concerning the nature of the inevitably changing American frontier and a psychological one typical of all great fairy tales.
On one level, the story is about the gradual loss of American frontier life; Clement, goaded by his possessive and greedy wife, is a reluctant embodiment of the taming of the wildness of the frontier by the civilizing effect of landowning. The Indians, mysterious and mostly unseen presences in the story, represent both the violence and the innocence of the wilderness; as Clement understands, they know that their time is limited. The central duality of Jamie, who is both a gentleman and a robber, suggests the transition point of the wilderness that the novel attempts to capture, for it takes place at a time in American history which hovers between the freedom of lawlessness and the restraint of civilized society.
Because the story also makes use of fairy-tale conventions as well as those of American folklore, it is not only the innocence, violence, and youth of the country that is depicted but also these same characteristics of the individual, for these are aspects upon which the...
(The entire section is 414 words.)