Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
Mrs. Fate Rainey is talking to an implied listener, a visiting stranger in Morgana, Mississippi. After Snowdie McLain comes for her butter and leaves, Mrs. Rainey begins to tell Snowdie’s unusual story. It is the story of how badly King McLain treats his wife and how well she takes it, a private story, though everyone knows it. “But,” Mrs. Rainey says, “I could almost bring myself to talk about it—to a passer-by, that will never see her again, or me either.” Mrs. Rainey then relates several astonishing incidents from Snowdie’s married life.
First, she explains the inexplicable marriage between King McLain, the most desirable man in the area, notorious for the number of children he is supposed to have fathered, and Snowdie Hudson, a teacher and the albino daughter of a respectable family. In Mrs. Rainey’s opinion, King has wanted to shock the community, to keep it off balance.
This desire also accounts for King’s staying away from Snowdie for long periods. Though he works as a traveling salesperson, he is gone too often and too long. The next astonishing incident occurred after his longest absence to that date. He sent Snowdie a note asking to meet her in Morgan’s Woods. Though it is quite difficult to construct an accurate chronology from Mrs. Rainey’s account, it appears that Snowdie’s twin sons were conceived under the tree where she met King, and that King departed immediately afterward, leaving his hat on the bank of the Big Black River to make it appear that he had drowned. However, it may be that he impregnated Snowdie and left his hat on the river bank at a later date.
Mrs. Rainey’s characterization of the town’s reactions to these strange events is amusing. It ranges from a kind of wondering, almost admiring acceptance of the inevitable in King’s behavior, on the one hand, to a kind of outraged sympathy for poor Snowdie, on the other. Though the women of Morgana should think King a scoundrel, they find him irresistibly attractive. Though they want to pity Snowdie, she seems irrepressibly happy. When Snowdie announces her pregnancy to Mrs. Rainey, she is radiant: “She looked like more than only the news had come over her. It was like a shower of something had struck her, like she’d been caught out in something bright.” Snowdie seems to find joy in her life despite King’s supposed death. King continues to fascinate the town. No one seems really to believe that he is dead.
The story’s second part centers on the most recent astonishing event, the apparent return of King to Morgana on Halloween, when his sons are about eight years old. No one sees his visit except an ancient black man, Plez, whose testimony is impeccable, and King’s two sons, who confront him on the front steps of his house, wearing outlandish costumes and roller skates. Plez’s account of the antic meeting suggests that it is a sort of exorcism, and the boys report that they have frightened off a “booger.” Though no one in town will tell Snowdie the full account, all know it. Mrs. Rainey knows that Snowdie believes that King came that day, and she believes that Snowdie holds it against her that she was there at the time, somehow preventing the desired meeting.
Mrs. Rainey finishes her narration, regretting that her friendship with Snowdie has cooled since that day, and reflecting, “With men like King, your thoughts are bottomless. . . . But I bet my little Jersey calf King tarried long enough to get him a child somewhere.” Finally, she expresses amazement at her ability to say such things.