illustrated portrait of American writer Truman Capote

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What is the conflict in Truman Capote's "A Jug of Silver"?

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There are few conflicts in the story. The first is a minor conflict that is dealt with fairly easily, but it does set the scene for the next conflict. This is the conflict between Mr. Marshall and Rufus McPhearson, his business competitor. Though Mr. Marshall owns the Valhalla drugstore, a...

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staple in the small community, Rufus McPhearson's store has many flashy and modernized services that Marshall cannot compete with. Mr. Marshall overcomes this conflict by offering an amusing type of lottery for patrons of his store. He fills a jar with nickles and offers the entire pot to whoever can guess the sum of the coins.

The second and primary conflict is between Appleseed, a young boy from Louisiana with a curious way about him, and the competition itself. Appleseed also struggles with many other external conflicts, such as his crippling poverty. He astounds the town by stating that he cannot simply "guess" how much money is in the jug; he must count it first. He claims to be capable of doing this because he was born with a "caul on his head." In the end, of course, Appleseed's guess is correct, though the exact manner of how he achieved this is uncertain.

Throughout the story, he sits at the fountain at Valhalla for many hours until the store closes and does not make his guess until he has done this for many days. Whether the method by which he is able to correctly ascertain the amount is providential, savant, or even supernatural, it is made very clear that the act was quite taxing on him. He is said to have begun to show "worry" as the date of the drawing came close, and he was shown to be tired, introverted, and shy without his sister around. This task can certainly be called the conflict of the principle character.

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The central conflict in Truman Capote’s “A Jug of Silver” is the one between young Appleseed and himself (man vs. self). In the story, Appleseed has set up extraordinarily unlikely odds for himself. The reader, as well as the story’s central characters, must move through the story in trepidation, wondering what the outcome will be.

At the story’s beginning, Appleseed and his sister Middy come into Mr. Marshall’s store after hearing that Mr. Marshall has set up a game where customers, for twenty-five cents, can guess how much money is inside a wine jar full of nickels and dimes. (This guessing game is Mr. Marshall’s advertising scheme and key method of stealing business away from Rufus McPherson, a rival store owner.)

While many townspeople guess, Appleseed, who is likely around eight, is the only character who visits the store daily. We learn that he lives about a mile out of town, and that he is very poor. Capote writes, “He was small and puny and high-strung, and he wore always the same outfit: a red sweater, blue denim britches, and a pair of man-sized boots that went clop-clop with every step.” Middy, his older sister, is skinny with terrible teeth. Appleseed and Middy’s earnestness and poverty, compared to that of the townspeople, help draw the reader deeper into the central conflict. Appleseed clearly needs the money, and his focus, coming in every day and counting it, helps build the story’s rising action.

Capote deftly moves the action forward, upping our sympathy for Appleseed as the story progresses. We learn that he believes he is lucky because he was born with a caul (a piece of amniotic sack) attached to his head. He’s convinced that this luck, combined with his counting ability, will win him the money. The reader, and everyone else in the story, wants Appleseed to win. Some of the characters even become nervous over what Appleseed’s reaction will be if he loses. They don’t want to “see that kid’s face,” if he’s not the winner.

At the story’s resolution, Appleseed does win the money. But throughout “A Jug of Silver,” the reader, and the story’s main characters, anxiously wait as Appleseed counts and prays and hopes that he can come up with the correct amount of money in the jar. Capote expertly draws us into Appleseed's inner conflict so that we will be rooting for him at the story’s end.

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The central conflict in the Truman Capote short story "A Jug of Silver" is between Mr. Marshall, the narrator's uncle, and a man named Rufus McPherson. Mr. Marshall owns the small town of Valhalla's only drugstore, which Capote describes as a well-kept but rather old-fashioned soda fountain, and McPherson opens up a new drugstore across the town square from Marshall's store. McPherson installs many modern conveniences, including electric fans, and promptly steals the majority of Marshall's business. The conflict between Marshall and McPherson also represents the age-old conflict between old and new, between progress and a fondness for the old ways.

In order to win his business back, Marshall creates a contest in which patrons are encouraged to guess how much money is contained in a jug filled with the coins (the "jug of silver" for which the story is named). A small, poor boy and his sister come to the drugstore every day, as the boy claims to be "counting" the coins. The boy believes he will be able to count the coins because, he claims, a witch once told him that he had special powers. Though counting the coins in the jug was clearly an impossible task, the boy guesses the amount of money exactly, just in time for the Christmas Eve reveal of the winner. This reveals a secondary conflict, apt for the Christmas season, between reason and a belief in magic or miracles.

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