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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

Earl Middleton is a man looking to change his luck. He has had his fair share of trouble in his life—troubles with the law, love, and work—and now he is hoping for a fresh start, a new beginning. He decides to hit the road, to get out of Montana, where...

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Earl Middleton is a man looking to change his luck. He has had his fair share of trouble in his life—troubles with the law, love, and work—and now he is hoping for a fresh start, a new beginning. He decides to hit the road, to get out of Montana, where he has recently gotten into trouble over several bad checks, which can put him into prison in Montana. For Earl, the troubles do not end in Montana. He seems to breed bad luck and trouble, to bring them along with him, even though he claims that he believes in crossing the street to stay out of trouble’s way.

For Earl, trouble follows and hounds him like the fumes of exhaust that stream out from the back of his car, a cranberry Mercedes stolen from an ophthalmologist’s lot. He gets halfway through Wyoming before the first hint of trouble surfaces: The oil light flashes, which he knows is a bad sign. When the car finally breaks down, thirty miles outside the mining town of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Earl’s life unravels faster than he ever could have dreamed. What began as a road trip filled with laughter and love, a new beginning for him, his girlfriend, Edna, and his daughter, Cheryl, turns abruptly into a dead end: a road going nowhere. Even worse, the stolen Mercedes is not the only thing that has broken down: Earl’s relationship with Edna turns sour. He is left to deal with the fact that he will always remember Rock Springs as a place where a woman left him, instead of a place where he finally got things going on a straight track.

That night, after Edna goes to sleep, Earl goes outside to the parking lot of the Ramada Inn where, in the morning, he will watch Edna leave on the first bus back to Montana, leaving him alone to care for himself and his daughter. He muses about what separates his life—a life shaped by heartbreak and loss—from the lives of those people who actually own the cars nosed into this lot. He finally realizes that, “Through luck or design they had all faced fewer troubles, and by their own characters, they forget them faster.” Earl’s story, his epiphany, does not end here. Earl has a few parting words to say before moving on. He poses a series of questions, to both the inhabitants of the motel and the reader: “What would you think a man was doing in the middle of the night looking in the windows of cars in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn? Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? . . . Would you think he was anybody like you?” The narrative tension created by being directly addressed at the end of the story, as if pulled in by the shirt collar and then just as suddenly pushed away, leaves readers alone to question their own lives, much as Earl Middleton is left alone, standing on a threshold between the present and the future, waiting and wondering what his next move will be.

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