Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this story, Hawthorne’s main concern is with Reuben’s interior development. Interestingly, he provides little physical description of Reuben himself, or of anyone else in the story. Neither are Reuben’s farm or the settlement in which he lives presented in much detail. Only two elements of the story are described clearly: Reuben’s “interior landscape” and the landscape of the forest where Reuben and Malvin part.

As the story opens, sunbeams filter through the trees to awaken the two men. The narrator describes the setting clearly, both what it looks like and what it feels like. He focuses on the large piece of granite and on a “young and vigorous sapling” near the men. The granite will become Malvin’s symbolic gravestone, and the sapling will function symbolically in the story as a parallel to Reuben’s development.

The sapling stands over the two men as they argue about what Reuben should do. As he is finally leaving, Reuben stands atop the rock and ties one of his own bloody bandages to the highest branch of the sapling. This flag will not help rescuers find Malvin, for the spot is too well hidden. Reuben intends it only as a token of his pledge and promise.

Eighteen years later, when Reuben returns to the spot, the narrator again describes the setting in detail. The contrast is striking. Where the sunlight was “cheerful” before, the forest is unremittingly “dark and gloomy.” Is this the result of...

(The entire section is 406 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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