Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It is clear from the beginning of the story that Mike Braneen is nearing death. He is an old man with physical debilities, approaching senility. His memories run together, though the reader might attribute this to fifty-two years of routine rather than to senility. Mike himself, however, is well aware that he has outlived his era. The transitoriness of life is thus a central theme. Mike, the town of Gold Rock, and the era of the solitary prospector are all dying.

However, neither Mike nor Walter Van Tilburg Clark is overly sentimental. Mike’s life has been good. His chosen lifestyle has given him both freedom and social contact, both of which his personality requires. Though a loner, Mike defines himself by human relationships; his self-concept as rugged individualist requires the admiration of his friends, and during his eight months of solitude he relives the memories of human contact in Gold Rock, Eureka, and other Nevada towns.

Mike is comfortable with solitude, too. He is close to nature, reads her signs, and lives in harmony with her cycles. Just as Mike brings his social memories with him to the mountains, he also brings his habit of retrospection with him back to town. Suddenly Mike’s friends are gone, the Lucky Boy is closed, and memories are all that Mike has left—and memories alone are not enough. The wind and snow of winter are about to claim Mike, too.