Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

Illustration of PDF document

Download Trilobites Study Guide

Subscribe Now

“Trilobites” is a first-person narrative in which a farmer named Colly describes a single day in his life but also recalls many key events from his past. This day is a turning point for Colly because he defies his mother and reunites briefly, but then breaks dramatically, with his former girlfriend.

As Colly drinks coffee in the Rock Camp café, he considers his unsuccessful attempts to find trilobite fossils in the nearby hills, the recent death of his father, and the loss of his girlfriend Ginny, who now lives in Florida but is back in town for a brief visit. Colly’s friend Jim joins him, and they discuss elusive fossils, World War II experiences Jim shared with Colly’s father, and the intention of Colly’s mother to sell the family farm.

Later Colly drives his farm tractor through blighted, drought-stricken fields and contemplates his failings as a farmer. He catches a snapping turtle in the nearby Teays River and begins to butcher and clean the carcass. When Mr. Trent appears to discuss purchasing the farm, Colly refuses to negotiate and carelessly splatters turtle blood on the developer’s trousers. Colly remembers pleasant times from the past (building a barn with his father and his first sexual experience with Ginny in the farm woods), but he also dwells on his father’s death (caused by a sliver of metal from a war wound that eventually worked its way into his brain). For no apparent reason, Colly blames himself for his father’s death.

As Colly cooks his turtle meat, he overhears his mother’s acceptance of Mr. Trent’s offer to purchase the farm and her plan to move to Akron, Ohio, where she thinks Colly can get a job at the Goodrich factory. After the developer leaves, Colly argues with his mother about Ginny (whose own mother deserted her and was later murdered in Chicago) and declares that he will not move to Akron.

When Colly goes driving with Ginny, she strikes him as overdressed and quite different from the way he remembered her. They discuss her mother, her overly protective father, her current boyfriend in Florida, and techniques for hitching rides on freight trains. Colly and Ginny break a window to get inside a deserted railroad station, and in doing so, Ginny cuts her arm. Colly binds the wound with his shirt, and it becomes soaked with blood. After a hasty sexual episode on the dirty depot floor, Colly begs Ginny to take him with her. Instead she drives away, leaving him alone at the abandoned depot. The story ends with Colly uncertain and fearful. He is about to lose his home, he cannot go with Ginny to Florida, and he refuses to follow his mother to Akron. What he will do and where he will go remain unclear, but he hints at travels like those of his father and Jim to Michigan, Germany, or maybe even China. With Colly’s very thin record of accomplishments, however, such goals may be as elusive as the trilobites he has so often sought but never found.