(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

During the dead of winter in 1918, a rural farm family faces starvation. After a summer in which the crops failed, the father is sick in bed with a protracted case of the flu, and the four children are all very young, by modern standards, to be of much help. It is left to the narrator’s mother to find a path through the dilemma.

Her solution is to resume a craft she learned as a girl, basket weaving, and to enlist the older children in the enterprise. The unnamed narrator, who is ten years old, supplies the raw materials for his mother. Through bitter cold he trudges to a nearby bluff to cut white oak saplings so that they can later be cut, quartered, and splintered to serve as basket-making materials. In addition to his new responsibilities in the basket-making venture, which include taking the finished products to the closest town and selling them, the boy labors on the farm from early morning until night. Much of the description of the story centers on the details of his chores: milking the cow, feeding the stock, and tending the fires. One of his major responsibilities on the farm is cutting, hauling, and splitting firewood, a task with which his mother helps him in the early and middle parts of the tale—but which she leaves entirely to him in the final section of the story.

By any standards, the young boy’s lot is a difficult one, but he accepts all of his responsibilities without complaint and carries out each one with surprising...

(The entire section is 578 words.)