The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 16–18 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 855

Chapter 16: The Game and the Nation—Last Act

As the train moves further west, it seems ever more likely to the narrator that some of the cowboys bound for Sunk Creek will mutiny and turn aside to Rawhide in search of gold. They tell stories and laugh raucously as Trampas continues to glower meaningfully at the Virginian while surreptitiously inciting rebellion at every opportunity. It appears to the narrator that Trampas has effectively persuaded all the men to mutiny, but the Virginian remains calm, remarking when asked that they are a single party and will all be going together either to Sunk Creek or to Rawhide.

The train halts at a bridge that is undergoing repairs. There is no food to be found nearby or in the dining car, and the Virginian, recalling his conversation with the narrator about Delmonico introducing frogs’ legs to New York, goes out and gathers a sack full of frogs. As he cooks them, he also makes up a nonsensical story about Delmonico and his frogs, by which Trampas is thoroughly taken in. The other cowboys realize that the Virginian has made a fool of Trampas and quickly abandon their plans of following him to Rawhide. The narrator concludes by saying that it was at this point that he made the reflections on equality which he shared with the reader at the beginning of chapter 13, “For the Virginian had been equal to the occasion: that is the only kind of equality which I recognize.”

Chapter 17: Scipio Moralizes

After the incident described in the previous chapter, the Virginian falls into a long silence. He gives commands and attends to business as needed, but none of these practical matters breaks his true and profound silence. He does not seem to notice the proximity or the sullen mood of Trampas, matters which do, however, draw various comments from Scipio, who has been examining the relations between the two men.

Scipio believes that both Trampas and the Virginian are biding their time. Trampas must be meditating on revenge, though he dare not strike yet. The Virginian presumably wants to make some move which will finish Trampas for good. He points out that the Virginian is only acting foreman and that, though he is the leader of this expedition, he will no longer have such authority once the cowboys return to Judge Henry’s ranch. Trampas will have reflected on this and taken it into account when planning his revenge.

These observations from Scipio, who has only known the Virginian for a couple of weeks, cause the narrator to reflect that, although he has himself now known the man for years, he does not really understand him and cannot predict his next move. One day, this point is graphically illustrated. They are talking when the Virginian suddenly picks up his gun and discharges a bullet very close to the narrator, who angrily says that this is the first foolish thing he has ever seen the Virginian do. However, it transpires that the Virginian has shot a rattlesnake which was a few feet from the narrator, saving him again.

Chapter 18: “Would You Be a Parson?”

At the end of their journey, with Sunk Creek actually in sight, the Virginian suddenly and peremptorily asks the narrator, “Would you be a parson?” He asks further questions about the order of precedence between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, remarking that the archbishops seem to have a high position in Shakespeare’s plays and are able to talk to the kings as few others would. He then moves on to asking how...

(This entire section contains 855 words.)

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many religions there are in the world and declaring that he is not religious himself but is not unreligious either. Eventually, he indicates a stranger dressed in black, who appears to be a clergyman, waiting impatiently in a nearby meadow.

As they ride over to the clergyman, Trampas rides up behind them. The Virginian speaks to him courteously enough but asks for Trampas to return his rope, which Trampas took that morning instead of his own. Trampas puts his hand on his gun, but the Virginian says that if he had wanted to kill Trampas, he would have done so during their long journey together. The narrator sees this minor irritation as part of a campaign of insults and annoyances which Trampas will try to wage against the Virginian, but this time Trampas smiles and glosses over the incident plausibly enough.

When the narrator and the Virginian reach the clergyman, he asks if they have seen Judge Henry. He has traveled from Fetterman to see the judge, according to plan, but has discovered that Judge Henry is absent and has been all day. The clergyman is an impressive figure in a civilized fashion, but the narrator thinks he seems ill-suited to spread the word of God among cowboys, as he appears rather too inflexible to thrive in the West. They escort him to Judge Henry’s house, where the judge has just now arrived from an excursion. His guests for the day are with him, and they include Molly Wood, whom the narrator goes to meet.


Chapters 13–15 Summary


Chapters 19–21 Summary