Welcome to IB! During the summer, you will be required to complete the following assignments. These assignments are the first grades you will receive in your IB English class so please do your best. If you have any questions you may contact us at either Lkey@aisa.sch.ae (Mr. Key) OR email@example.com (Mr. Stewart) on or before September 1st, 2015. All assignments are due the first day of class. Your responses should be typed, double-spaced, and in proper MLA format.
(you may also find help with MLA format here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/)
Upload your responses to Turn-it-in.com
Mr. Stewart: Class ID: 10094450 Password: aisa123
Mr. Key: Class ID: 10094531 Password: mrkeyrules
Meet Your Author!
Flannery O’Connor is one of the great American writers of the twentieth century. In spite of challenging circumstances, O’Connor created a body of work that is quite impressive considering that she only lived to be thirty-nine. The fiction of Flannery O’Connor examines human nature with a fierce moral vision, using an unconventional approach to explore concepts such as original sin and the presence of grace. With vivid imagery, clever satire, and a twist of irony, O’Connor takes her readers to an often surreal world inhabited by prophets, criminals, fanatics, and good country people. Many of her characters have their most fundamental beliefs and assumptions shattered, often through violent encounters, which ultimately leads to transformation and even enlightenment.
Consider this as you read the selected stories for your summer reading and complete the writing assignments accordingly.
Open-Ended Responses: Each short story has an individual writing response. Your responses should be 1-2 paragraphs per question and include specific references to the text to support your claims.
Discuss the use of symbolism in The Life You Save May Be Your Own. Be sure to identify symbols (choose 1-2 and explore in depth!) used by O’Connor and analyze their purpose in the narrative.
Analyze and evaluate the characterization of the Grandmother in A Good Man is Hard to Find. How does O’Connor build the grandmother’s character? How does O’Connor use the situation of the crowded car to reveal the grandmother’s personality?
Discuss O’Connor’s use of irony and depiction of hypocrisy in Good Country People. Explain how she uses these devices to work toward an overall theme of the story.
Flannery O’Connor once said, “The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence.” (brainyquote.com) Based on the stories you have read discuss O’Connor’s views on Southern society in a well-written essay using the quote above. Which traits deserve tolerance through their innocence? Which traits are unforgiveable? How does she make her social commentary known?
Your essay should be 3-4 pages and you may not exceed the page limit. Be sure to analyze O’Connor’s social commentary through her use of literary devices.
clear, varied, precise and concise use of language
no significant lapses in grammar, spelling and sentence construction
precise use of wide vocabulary and varied idiom and style
effective choice of register.
A Good Man Is Hard To Find
By Flannery O’Connor
The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. "Now look here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did."
Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. "The children have been to Florida before," the old lady said. "You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee."
The children's mother didn't seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, "If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?" He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
"She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said without raising her yellow head.
"Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?" the grandmother asked.
"I'd smack his face," John Wesley said.
"She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," June Star said. "Afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go."
"All right, Miss," the grandmother said. "Just re- member that the next time you want me to curl your hair."
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of her. Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children's mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled. The children were reading comic magazines and their mother and gone back to sleep.
"Let's go through Georgia fast so we won't have to look at it much," John Wesley said.
"If I were a little boy," said the grandmother, "I wouldn't talk about my native state that way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills."
"Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground," John Wesley said, "and Georgia is a lousy state too."
"You said it," June Star said.
"In my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, "children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!" she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. "Wouldn't that make a picture, now?" she asked and they all turned and looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved
"He didn't have any britches on," June Star said.
"He probably didn't have any," the grandmother explained. "Little riggers in the country don't have things like we do. If I could paint, I'd paint that picture," she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children's mother passed him over the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large cotton field with five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. "Look at the graveyard!" the grandmother said, pointing it out. "That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation."
"Where's the plantation?" John Wesley asked.
"Gone With the Wind" said the grandmother. "Ha. Ha."
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn't play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother.
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T. ! This story tickled John Wesley's funny bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn't think it was any good. She said she wouldn't marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentle man and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY'S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY'S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN! RED SAMMY'S YOUR MAN!
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a truck while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw the children jump out of the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the nickelodeon and Red Sam's wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her skin, came and took their order. The children's mother put a dime in the machine and played "The Tennessee Waltz," and the grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance. She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at her. He didn't have a naturally sunny disposition like she did and trips made him nervous. The grandmother's brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something she could tap to so the children's mother put in another dime and played a fast number and June Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap routine.
"Ain't she cute?" Red Sam's wife said, leaning over the counter. "Would you like to come be my little girl?"
"No I certainly wouldn't," June Star said. "I wouldn't live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!" and she ran back to the table.
"Ain't she cute?" the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.
"Arn't you ashamed?" hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with these people's order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. "You can't win," he said. "You can't win," and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. "These days you don't know who to trust," he said. "Ain't that the truth?"
"People are certainly not nice like they used to be," said the grandmother.
"Two fellers come in here last week," Red Sammy said, "driving a Chrysler. It was a old beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?"
"Because you're a good man!" the grandmother said at once.
"Yes'm, I suppose so," Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in each hand and one balanced on her arm. "It isn't a soul in this green world of God's that you can trust," she said. "And I don't count nobody out of that, not nobody," she repeated, looking at Red Sammy.
"Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that's escaped?" asked the grandmother.
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't attack this place right here," said the woman. "If he hears about it being here, I wouldn't be none surprised to see him. If he hears it's two cent in the cash register, I wouldn't be a tall surprised if he . . ."
"That'll do," Red Sam said. "Go bring these people their Co'-Colas," and the woman went off to get the rest of the order.
"A good man is hard to find," Red Sammy said. "Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more."
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Tombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret:-panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . ."
"Hey!" John Wesley said. "Let's go see it! We'll find it! We'll poke all the woodwork and find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can't we turn off there?"
"We never have seen a house with a secret panel!" June Star shrieked. "Let's go to the house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can't we go see the house with the secret panel!"
"It's not far from here, I know," the grandmother said. "It wouldn't take over twenty minutes."
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. "No," he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.
"All right!" he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. "Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don't shut up, we won't go anywhere."
"It would be very educational for them," the grandmother murmured.
"All right," Bailey said, "but get this: this is the only time we're going to stop for anything like this. This is the one and only time."
"The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back," the grandmother directed. "I marked it when we passed."
"A dirt road," Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace.
"You can't go inside this house," Bailey said. "You don't know who lives there."
"While you all talk to the people in front, I'll run around behind and get in a window," John Wesley suggested.
"We'll all stay in the car," his mother said.
They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day's journey. The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees looking down on them.
"This place had better turn up in a minute," Bailey said, "or I'm going to turn around."
The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months.
"It's not much farther," the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her eyes dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey's shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the driver's seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose clinging to his neck like a caterpillar.
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of the car, shouting, "We've had an ACCIDENT!" The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey's wrath would not come down on her all at once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the children's mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the screaming baby, but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. "We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.
"But nobody's killed," June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, except the children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking.
"Maybe a car will come along," said the children's mother hoarsely.
"I believe I have injured an organ," said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one answered her. Bailey's teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile. There were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn't speak. Then he turned his head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side. Neither spoke.
The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns.
"We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed.
The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn't slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red and thin. "Good afternoon," he said. "I see you all had you a little spill."
"We turned over twice!" said the grandmother.
"Once", he corrected. "We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram," he said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.
"What you got that gun for?" John Wesley asked. "Whatcha gonna do with that gun?"
"Lady," the man said to the children's mother, "would you mind calling them children to sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together there where you're at."
"What are you telling US what to do for?" June Star asked.
Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. "Come here," said their mother.
"Look here now," Bailey began suddenly, "we're in a predicament! We're in . . ."
The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. "You're The Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!"
"Yes'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be known, "but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't of reckernized me."
Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened.
"Lady," he said, "don't you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don't mean. I don't reckon he meant to talk to you thataway."
"You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" the grandmother said and removed a clean handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it.
The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then covered it up again. "I would hate to have to," he said.
"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!"
"Yes mam," he said, "finest people in the world." When he smiled he showed a row of strong white teeth. "God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy's heart was pure gold," he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind them and was standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground. "Watch them children, Bobby Lee," he said. "You know they make me nervous." He looked at the six of them huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he couldn't think of anything to say. "Ain't a cloud in the sky," he remarked, looking up at it. "Don't see no sun but don't see no cloud neither."
"Yes, it's a beautiful day," said the grandmother. "Listen," she said, "you shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell."
"Hush!" Bailey yelled. "Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!" He was squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn't move.
"I pre-chate that, lady," The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the butt of his gun.
"It'll take a half a hour to fix this here car," Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of it.
"Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you," The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. "The boys want to ast you something," he said to Bailey. "Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with them?"
"Listen," Bailey began, "we're in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is," and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still.
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it fall on the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man. John Wesley caught hold of his father's hand and Bobby Lee followed. They went off toward the woods and just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting himself against a gray naked pine trunk, he shouted, "I'll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!"
"Come back this instant!" his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods.
"Bailey Boy!" the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. "I just know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!"
"Nome, I ain't a good man," The Misfit said after a second ah if he had considered her statement carefully, "but I ain't the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. 'You know,' Daddy said, 'it's some that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it's others has to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He's going to be into everything!"' He put on his black hat and looked up suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were embarrassed again. "I'm sorry I don't have on a shirt before you ladies," he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. "We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped and we're just making do until we can get better. We borrowed these from some folks we met," he explained.
"That's perfectly all right," the grandmother said. "Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his suitcase."
"I'll look and see terrectly," The Misfit said.
"Where are they taking him?" the children's mother screamed.
"Daddy was a card himself," The Misfit said. "You couldn't put anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them."
"You could be honest too if you'd only try," said the grandmother. "Think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time."
The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as if he were thinking about it. "Yestm, somebody is always after you," he murmured.
The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind his hat because she was standing up looking down on him. "Do you every pray?" she asked.
He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades. "Nome," he said.
There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The old lady's head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied in suck of breath. "Bailey Boy!" she called.
"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said.
"Pray, pray," the grandmother began, "pray, pray . . ."
I never was a bad boy that I remember of," The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice, "but somewheres along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was buried alive," and he looked up and held her attention to him by a steady stare.
"That's when you should have started to pray," she said. "What did you do to get sent to the penitentiary that first time?"
"Turn to the right, it was a wall," The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky. "Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain't recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come."
"Maybe they put you in by mistake," the old lady said vaguely.
"Nome," he said. "It wasn't no mistake. They had the papers on me."
"You must have stolen something," she said.
The Misfit sneered slightly. "Nobody had nothing I wanted," he said. "It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go there and see for yourself."
"If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you."
"That's right," The Misfit said.
"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight suddenly.
"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself."
Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.
"Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn't name what the shirt reminded her of. "No, lady," The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, "I found out the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it."
The children's mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn't get her breath. "Lady," he asked, "would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join your husband?"
"Yes, thank you," the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. "Hep that lady up, Hiram," The Misfit said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, "and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that little girl's hand."
"I don't want to hold hands with him," June Star said. "He reminds me of a pig."
The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the woods after Hiram and her mother.
Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, "Jesus. Jesus," meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.
"Yes'm, The Misfit said as if he agreed. "Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course," he said, "they never shown me my papers. That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit," he said, "because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. "Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all?"
"Jesus!" the old lady cried. "You've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!"
"Lady," The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, "there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip."
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!" as if her heart would break.
"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
"Maybe He didn't raise the dead," the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.
"I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't," The Misfit said. "I wisht I had of been there," he said, hitting the ground with his fist. "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady," he said in a high voice, "if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children !" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking. "Take her off and thow her where you thown the others," he said, picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
"She was a talker, wasn't she?" Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
"Some fun!" Bobby Lee said.
"Shut up, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in life."
The Life You Save May Be Your Own
THE old woman and her daughter were sitting on their porch when Mr. Shiftlet came up their road for the first time. The old woman slid to the edge of her chair and leaned forward, shading her eyes from the piercing sunset with her hand. The daughter could not see far in front of her and continued to play with her fingers. Although the old woman lived in this desolate spot with only her daughter and she had never seen Mr. Shiftlet before, she could tell, even from a distance, that he was a tramp and no one to be afraid of. His left coat sleeve was folded up to show there was only half an arm in it and his gaunt figure listed slightly to the side as if the breeze were pushing him. He had on a black town suit and a brown felt hat that was turned up in the front and down in the back and he carried a tin tool box by a handle. He came on, at an amble, up her road, his face turned toward the sun which appeared to be balancing itself on the peak of a small mountain.
The old woman didn't change her position until he was almost into her yard; then she rose with one hand fisted on her hip. The daughter, a large girl in a short blue organdy dress, saw him all at once and jumped up and began to stamp and point and make excited speechless sounds.
Mr. Shiftlet stopped just inside the yard and set his box on the ground and tipped his hat at her as if she were not in the least afflicted; then he turned toward the old woman and swung the hat all the way off. He had long black slick hair that hung flat from a part in the middle to beyond the tips of his ears on either side. His face descended in forehead for more than half its length and ended suddenly with his features just balanced over a jutting steel‑trap jaw. He seemed to be a young man but he had a look of composed dissatisfaction as if he understood life thoroughly.
"Good evening," the old woman said. She was about the size of a cedar fence post and she had a man's gray hat pulled down low over her head.
The tramp stood looking at her and didn't answer. He turned his back and faced the sunset. He swung both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross. The old woman watched him with her arms folded across her chest as if she were the owner of the sun, and the daughter watched, her head thrust forward and her fat helpless hands hanging at the wrists. She had long pink‑gold hair and eyes as blue as a peacock's neck.
He held the pose for almost fifty seconds and then he picked up his box and came on to the porch and dropped down on the bottom step. "Lady," he said in a firm nasal voice, "I'd give a fortune to live where I could see me a sun do that every evening."
"Does it every evening," the old woman said and sat back down. The daughter sat down too and watched him with a cautious sly look as if he were a bird that had come up very close. He leaned to one side, rooting in his pants pocket, and in a second he brought out a package of chewing gum and offered her a piece. She took it and unpeeled it and began to chew without taking her eyes off him. He offered the old woman a piece but she only raised her upper lip to indicate she had no teeth.
Mr. Shiftlet's pale sharp glance had already passed over everything in the yard‑the pump near the comer of the house and the big fig tree that three or four chickens were preparing to roost in‑and had moved to a shed where he saw the square rusted back of an automobile. "You ladies drive?" he asked.
"That car ain't run in fifteen year," the old woman said. "The day my husband died, it quit running."
"Nothing is like it used to be, lady," he said. "The world is almost rotten."
"That's right," the old woman said. "You from around here?"
"Name Tom T. Shiftlet," he murmured, looking at the tires.
"I'm pleased to meet you," the old woman said. "Name Lucynell Crater and daughter Lucynell Crater. What you doing around here, Mr. Shiftlet?"
He judged the car to be about a 1928 or '29 Ford. "'Lady," he said, and turned and gave her his full attention, "lemme tell you something. There's one of these doctors in Atlanta that's taken a knife and cut the human heart‑the human heart," he repeated, leaning forward, "out of a man's chest and held it in his hand," and he held his hand out, palm up, as if it were slightly weighted with the human heart, "and studied it like it was a day‑old chicken, and lady," he said, allowing a long significant pause in which his head slid forward and his clay‑colored eyes brightened, "he don't know no more about it than you or me."
"That's right," the old woman said.
"Why, if he was to take that knife and cut into every corner of it, he still wouldn't know no more than you or me. What you want to bet?"
"Nothing," the old woman said wisely. "Where you come from, Mr. Shiftlet?"
He didn't answer. He reached into his pocket and brought out a sack of tobacco and a package of cigarette papers and rolled himself a cigarette, expertly with one hand, and attached it in a hanging position to his upper lip. Then he took a box of wooden matches from his pocket and struck one on his shoe. He held the burning match as if he were studying the mystery of flame while it traveled dangerously toward his skin. The daughter began to make loud noises and to point to his hand and shake her finger at him, but when the flame was just before touching him, he leaned down with his hand cupped over it as if he were going to set fire to his nose and lit the cigarette.
He flipped away the dead match and blew a stream of gray into the evening. A sly look came over his face. "Lady," he said, "nowadays, people'll do anything anyways. I can tell you my name is Tom T. Shiftlet and I come from Tarwater, Tennessee, but you never have seen me before: how you know I ain't lying? How you know my name ain't Aaron Sparks, lady, and I come from Singleberry, Georgia, or how you know it's not George Speeds and I come from Lucy, Alabama, or how you know I ain't Thompson Bright from Toolafalls, Mississippi?"
"I don't know nothing about you," the old woman muttered, irked.
"Lady," he said, "people don't care how they lie. Maybe the best I can tell you is, I'm a man; but listen lady," he said and paused and made his tone more ominous still, "what is a man?"
The old woman began to gum a seed. "What you carry in that tin box, Mr. Shiftlet?" she asked.
"Tools," he said, put back. "I'm a carpenter."
"Well, if you come out here to work, I'll be able to feed you and give you a place to sleep but I can't pay. I'll tell you that before you begin," she said.
There was no answer at once and no particular expression on his face. He leaned back against the two‑by‑four that helped support the porch roof. "Lady," he said slowly, "there's some men that some things mean more to them than money." The old woman rocked without comment and the daughter watched the trigger that moved up and down in his neck. He told the old woman then that all most people were interested in was money, but he asked what a man was made for. He asked her if a. man was made for money, or what. He asked her what she thought she was made for but she didn't answer, she only sat rocking and wondered if a one‑armed man could put a new roof on her garden house. He asked a lot of questions that she didn't answer. He told her that he was twenty‑eight years old and had lived a varied life. He had been a gospel singer, a foreman on the railroad, an assistant in an undertaking parlor, and he had come over the radio for three months with Uncle Roy and his Red Creek Wranglers. He said he had fought and bled in the Arm Service of his country and visited every foreign land and that everywhere he had seen people that didn't care if they did a thing one way or another. He said he hadn't been raised thataway.
A fat yellow moon appeared in the branches of the fig tree as if it were going to roost there with the chickens. He said that a man had to escape to the country to see the world whole and that he wished he lived in a desolate place like this where he could see the sun go down every evening like God made it to do.
"Are you married or are you single?" the old woman asked.
There was a long silence. "Lady," he asked finally, "where would you find you an innocent woman today'? I wouldn't have any of this trash I could just pick up."
The daughter was leaning very far down, hanging her head almost between her knees, watching him through a triangular door she had made in her overturned hair; and she suddenly fell in a heap on the floor and began to whimper. Mr. Shiftlet straightened her out and helped her get back in the chair.
"Is she your baby girl?" he asked.
"My only," the old woman said, "and she's the sweetest girl in the world. I wouldn't give her up for nothing on earth. She's smart too. She can sweep the floor, cook, wash, feed the chickens, and hoe. I wouldn't give her up for a casket of jewels."
"No," he said kindly, "don't ever let any man take her away from you."
"Any man come after her," the old woman said, " 'll have to stay around the place."
Mr. Shiftlet's eye in the darkness was focused on a part of the automobile bumper that glittered in the distance. "Lady," he said, jerking his short arm up as if he could point with it to her house and yard and pump, "there ain't a broken thing on this plantation that I couldn't fix for you, one‑arm jackleg or not. I'm a man," he said with a sullen dignity, "even if I ain't a whole one. I got," he said, tapping his knuckles on the floor to emphasize the immensity of what he was going to say, "a moral intelligence!" and his face pierced out of the darkness into a shaft of doorlight and he stared at her as if he were astonished himself at this impossible truth.
The old woman was not impressed with the phrase. "I told you you could hang around and work for food," she said, "if you don't mind sleeping in that car yonder."
"Why listen, Lady," he said with a grin of delight, "the monks of old slept in their coffins!"
"They wasn't as advanced as we are," the old woman said.
The next morning he began on the roof of the garden house while Lucynell, the daughter, sat on a rock and watched him work. He had not been around a week before the change he had made in the place was apparent. He had patched the front and back steps, built a new hog pen, restored a fence, and taught Lucynell, who was completely deaf and had never said a word in her life, to say the word "bird."
The big rosy‑faced girl followed him everywhere, saying "Burrttddt ddbirrrttdt," and clapping her hands. The old woman watched from a distance, secretly pleased. She was ravenous for a son‑in‑law.
Mr. Shiftlet slept on the hard narrow back seat of the car with his feet out the side window. He had his razor and a can of water on a crate that served him as a bedside table and he put up a piece of mirror against the back glass and kept his coat neatly on a hanger that he hung over one of the windows.
In the evenings he sat on the steps and talked while the old woman and Lucynell rocked violently in their chairs on either side of him. The old woman's three mountains were black against the dark blue sky and were visited off and on by various planets and by the moon after it had left the chickens. Mr. Shiftlet pointed out that the reason he had improved this plantation was because he had taken a personal interest in it. He said he was even going to make the automobile run.
He had raised the hood and studied the mechanism and he said he could tell that the car had been built in the days when cars were really built. “You take now,” he said, “one man puts in one bolt and another man puts in another bolt and another man puts in another bolt so that it's a man for a bolt. That's why you have to 'pay so much for a car: you’re paying all those men. Now if you didn't have to pay but one man, you could get you a cheaper car and one that had had a personal interest taken in it, and it would be a better car.” The old woman agreed with him that this was so.
Mr. Shiftlet said that the trouble with the world was that nobody cared, or stopped and took any trouble. He said he never would have been able to teach Lucynell to say a word if he hadn't cared and stopped long enough.
"Teach her to say something else," the old woman said.
"What you want her to say next?" Mr. Shiftlet asked.
The old woman's smile was broad and toothless and suggestive. "Teach her to say 'sugarpie,'" she said.
Mr. Shiftlet already knew what was on her mind.
The next day he began to tinker with the automobile and that evening he told her that if she would buy a fan belt, he would be able to make the car run.
The old woman said she would give him the money. "You see that girl yonder?" she asked, pointing to Lucynell who was sitting on the floor a foot away, watching him, her eyes blue even in the dark. "If it was ever a man wanted to take her away, I would say, 'No man on earth is going to take that sweet girl of mine away from me!' but if he was to say, 'Lady, I don't want to take her away, I want her right here,' I would say, 'Mister, I don't blame you none. I wouldn't pass up a chance to live in a permanent place and get the sweetest girl in the world myself. You ain't no fool,' I would say.”
"How old is she?" Mr. Shiftlet asked casually.
"Fifteen, sixteen," the old woman said. The girl was nearly thirty but because of her innocence it was impossible to guess.
"It would be a good idea to paint it too," Mr. Shiftlet remarked. "You don't want it to rust out."
"We'll see about that later," the old woman said.
The next day he walked into town and returned with the parts he needed and a can of gasoline. Late in the afternoon, terrible noises issued from the shed and the old woman rushed out of the house, thinking Lucynell was somewhere having a fit. Lucynell was sitting on a chicken crate, stamping her feet and screaming, "Burrddttt! bddurrddtttt!" but her fuss was drowned out by the car. With a volley of blasts it emerged from the shed, moving in a fierce and stately way. Mr. Shiftlet was in the driver's seat, sitting very erect. He had an expression of serious modesty on his face as if he had just raised the dead.
That night, rocking on the porch, the old woman began her business at once. "You want you an innocent woman, don't you?" she asked sympathetically. "You don't want none of this trash."
"No'm, I don't," Mr. Shiftlet said.
"One that can't talk," she continued, "can't sass you back or use foul language. That's the kind for you to have. Right there," and she pointed to Lucynell sitting cross‑legged in her chair, holding both feet in her hands.
"That's right," he admitted. "She wouldn't give me any trouble."
"Saturday," the old woman said, "you and her and me can drive into town and get married."
Mr. Shiftlet eased his position on the steps.
"I can't get married right now," he said. "Everything you want to do takes money and I ain't got any."
"What you need with money?" she asked.
"It takes money," he said. "Some people'll do anything anyhow these days, but the way I think, I wouldn't marry no woman that I couldn't take on a trip like she was somebody. I mean take her to a hotel and treat her. I wouldn't marry the Duchesser Windsor," he said firmly, "unless I could take her to a hotel and give her something good to eat.
"I was raised thataway and there ain't a thing I can do about it. My old mother taught me how to do."
"Lucynell don't even know what a hotel is," the old woman muttered. "Listen here, Mr. Shiftlet," she said, sliding forward in her chair, "you'd be getting a permanent house and a deep well and the most innocent girl in the world. You don't need no money. Lemme tell you something: there ain't any place in the world for a poor disabled friendless drifting man."
The ugly words settled in Mr. Shiftlet's head like a group of buzzards in the top of a tree. He didn't answer at once. He rolled himself a cigarette and lit it and then he said in an even voice, "Lady, a man is divided into two parts, body and spirit."
The old woman clamped her gums together.
"A body and a spirit," he repeated. "The body, lady, is like a house: it don't go anywhere; but the spirit, lady, is like a automobile: always on the move, always . . ."
"Listen, Mr. Shiftlet," she said, "my well never goes dry and my house is always warm in the winter and there's no mortgage on a thing about this place. You can go to the courthouse and see for yourself And yonder under that shed is a fine automobile." She laid the bait carefully. "You can have it painted by Saturday. I'll pay for the paint."
In the darkness, Mr. Shiftlet's smile stretched like a weary snake waking up by a fire. After a second he recalled himself and said, "I'm only saying a man's spirit means more to him than anything else. I would have to take my wife off for the week end without no regards at all for cost. I got to follow where my spirit says to go."
"I'll give you fifteen dollars for a week‑end trip," the old woman said in a crabbed voice. "That's the best I can do."
"That wouldn't hardly pay for more than the gas and the hotel," he said. "It wouldn't feed her."
"Seventeen‑fifty," the old woman said. "That's all I got so it isn't any use you trying to milk me. You can take a lunch."
Mr. Shiftlet was deeply hurt by the word "milk." He didn't doubt that she had more money sewed up in her mattress but he had already told her he was not interested in her money. "I'll make that do," he said and rose and walked off without treating with her further.
On Saturday the three of them drove into town in the car that the paint had barely dried on and Mr. Shiftlet and Lucynell were married in the Ordinary's office while the old woman witnessed. As they came out of the courthouse, Mr. Shiftlet began twisting his neck in his collar. He looked morose and bitter as if he had been insulted while someone held him. "That didn't satisfy me none," he said. "That was just something a woman in an office did, nothing but paper work and blood tests. What do they know about my blood? If they was to take my heart and cut it out," he said, "they wouldn't know a thing about me. It didn't satisfy me at all."
"It satisfied the law," the old woman said sharply.
'The law," Mr. Shiftlet said and spit. "It's the law that don't satisfy me."
He had painted the car dark green with a yellow band around it just under the windows. The three of them climbed in the front seat and the old woman said, "Don't Lucynell look pretty? Looks like a baby doll." Lucynell was dressed up in a white dress that her mother had uprooted from a trunk and there was a Panama hat on her head with a bunch of red wooden cherries on the brim. Every now and then her placid expression was changed by a sly isolated little thought like a shoot of green in the desert. "You got a prize!" the old woman said.
Mr. Shiftlet didn't even look at her.
They drove back to the house to let the old woman off and pick up the lunch. When they were ready to leave, she stood staring in the window of the car, with her fingers clenched around the glass. Tears began to seep sideways out of her eyes and run along the dirty creases in her face. "I ain't ever been parted with her for two days before," she said.
Mr. Shiftlet started the motor.
"And I wouldn't let no man have her but you because I seen you would do right. Good‑by, Sugarbaby," she said, clutching at the sleeve of the white dress. Lucynell looked straight at her and didn't seem to see her there at all. Mr. Shiftlet eased the car forward so that she had to move her hands.
The early afternoon was clear and open and surrounded by pale blue sky. Although the car would go only thirty miles an hour, Mr. Shiftlet imagined a terrific climb and dip and swerve that went entirely to his head so that he forgot his morning bitterness. He had always wanted an automobile but he had never been able to afford one before. He drove very fast because he wanted to make Mobile by nightfall.
Occasionally he stopped his thoughts long enough to look at Lucynell in the seat beside him. She had eaten the lunch as soon as they were out of the yard and now she was pulling the cherries off the hat one by one and throwing them out the window. He became depressed in spite of the car. He had driven about a hundred miles when he decided that she must be hungry again and at the next small town they came to, he stopped in front of an aluminum‑painted eating place called The Hot Spot and took her in and ordered her a plate of ham and grits. The ride had made her sleepy and as soon as she got up on the stool, she rested her head on the counter and shut her eyes. There was no one in The Hot Spot but Mr. Shiftlet and the boy behind the counter, a pale youth with a greasy rag hung over his shoulder. Before he could dish up the food, she was snoring gently.
"Give it to her when she wakes up," Mr. Shiftlet said. "I'll pay for it now."
The boy bent over her and stared at the long pink‑gold hair and the half‑shut sleeping eyes. Then he looked up and stared at Mr. Shiftlet. "She looks like an angel of Gawd," he murmured.
"Hitch‑hiker," Mr. Shiftlet explained. "I can't wait. I got to make Tuscaloosa."
The boy bent over again and very carefully touched his finger to a strand of the golden hair and Mr. Shiftlet left.
He was more depressed than ever as he drove on by himself. The late afternoon had grown hot and sultry and the country had flattened out. Deep in the sky a storm was preparing very slowly and without thunder as if it meant to drain every drop of air from the earth before it broke. There were times when Mr. Shiftlet preferred not to be alone. He felt too that a man with a car had a responsibility to others and he kept his eye out for a hitch‑hiker. Occasionally he saw a sign that warned: "Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own."
The narrow road dropped off on either side into dry fields and here and there a shack or a filling station stood in a clearing. The sun began to set directly in front of the automobile. It was a reddening ball that through his windshield was slightly flat on the bottom and top. He saw a boy in overalls and a gray hat standing on the edge of the road and he slowed the car down and stopped in front of him. The boy didn't have his hand raised to thumb the ride, he was only standing there, but he had a small cardboard suitcase and his hat was set on his head in a way to indicate that he had left somewhere for good. "Son," Mr. Shiftlet said, "I see you want a ride."
The boy didn't say he did or he didn't but he opened the door of the car and got in, and Mr. Shiftlet started driving again. The child held the suitcase on his lap and folded his arms on top of it. He turned his head and looked out the window away from Mr. Shiftlet. Mr. Shiftlet felt oppressed. "Son," he said after a minute, "I got the best old mother in the world so I reckon you only got the second best."
The boy gave him a quick dark glance and then turned his face back out the window.
"It's nothing so sweet," Mr. Shiftlet continued, "as a boy's mother. She taught him his first prayers at her knee, she give him love when no other would, she told him what was right and what wasn't, and she seen that he done the right thing. Son," he said, "I never rued a day in my life like the one I rued when I left that old mother of mine."
The boy shifted in his seat but he didn't look at Mr. Shiftlet. He unfolded his arms and put one hand on the door handle.
"My mother was a angel of Gawd," Mr. Shiftlet said in a very strained voice. "He took her from heaven and giver to me and I left her." His eyes were instantly clouded over with a mist of tears. The car was barely moving.
The boy turned angrily in the seat. "You go to the devil!" he cried. "My old woman is a flea bag and yours is a stinking pole cat!" and with that he flung the door open and jumped out with his suitcase into the ditch.
Mr. Shiftlet was so shocked that for about a hundred feet he drove along slowly with the door stiff open. A cloud, the exact color of the boy's hat and shaped like a turnip, had descended over the sun, and another, worse looking, crouched behind the car. Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him. He raised his arm and let it fall again to his breast. "Oh Lord!" he prayed. "Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!"
The turnip continued slowly to descend. After a few minutes there was a guffawing peal of thunder from behind and fantastic raindrops, like tin‑can tops, crashed over the rear of Mr. Shiftlet's car. Very quickly he stepped on the gas and with his stump sticking out the window he raced the galloping shower into Mobile.
Good Country People
By Flannery O’Connor
Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings. Her forward expression was steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck. Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it. She seldom used the other expression because it was not often necessary for her to retract a statement, but when she did, her face came to a complete stop, there was an almost imperceptible movement of her black eyes, during which they seemed to be receding, and then the observer would see that Mrs. Freeman, though she might stand there as real as several grain sacks thrown on top of each other, was no longer there in spirit. As for getting anything across to her when this was the case, Mrs. Hopewell had given it up. She might talk her head off. Mrs. Freeman could never be brought to admit herself wrong to any point. She would stand there and if she could be brought to say anything, it was something like, “Well, I wouldn’t of said it was and I wouldn’t of said it wasn’t” or letting her gaze range over the top kitchen shelf where there was an assortment of dusty bottles, she might remark, “I see you ain’t ate many of them figs you put up last summer.”
They carried on their most important business in the kitchen at breakfast. Every morning Mrs. Hopewell got up at seven o’clock and lit her gas heater and Joy’s. Joy was her daughter, a large blonds girl who had an artificial leg. Mrs. Hopewell thought of her as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated. Joy would get up while her mother was eating and lumber into the bathroom and slam the door, and before long, Mrs. Freeman would arrive at the back door. Joy would hear her mother call, “Come on in,” and then they would talk for a while in low voices that were indistinguishable in the bathroom. By the time Joy came in, they had usually finished the weather report and were on one or the other of Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, Glynese or Carramae. Joy called them Glycerin and Caramel. Glynese, a redhead, was eighteen and had many admirers; Carramae, a blonde, was only fifteen but already married and pregnant. She could not keep anything on her stomach. Every morning Mrs. Freeman told Mrs. Hopewell how many times she had vomited since the last report.
Mrs. Hopewell liked to tell people that Glynese and Carramae were two of the finest girls she knew and that Mrs. Freeman was a lady and that she was never ashamed to take her anywhere or introduce her to anybody they might meet. Then she would tell how she had happened to hire the Freemans in the first place and how they were a godsend to her and how she had had them four years. The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people. She had telephoned the man whose name they had given as reference and he had told her that Mr. Freeman was a good farmer but that his wife was the nosiest woman ever to walk the earth. “She’s got to be into everything,” the man said. “If she don’t get there before the dust settles, you can bet she’s dead, that’s all. She’ll want to know all your business. I can stand him real good,” he had said, “but me nor my wife neither could have stood that woman one more minute on this place.” That had put Mrs. Hopewell off for a few days.
She had hired them in the end because there were no other applicants but she had made up her mind beforehand exactly how she would handle the woman. Since she was the type who had to be into everything, then, Mrs. Hopewell had decided, she would not only let her be into everything, she would see to it that she was into everything – she would give her the responsibility of everything, she would put her in charge. Mrs. Hopewell had no bad qualities of her own but she was able to use other people’s in such a constructive way that she had kept them four years.
Nothing is perfect. This was one of Mrs. Hopewell’s favorite sayings. Another was: that is life! And still another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too. She would make these statements, usually at the table, in a tone of gentle insistence as if no one held them but her, and the large hulking Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face, would stare just a little to the side of her, her eyes icy blue, with the look of someone who had achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it.
When Mrs. Hopewell said to Mrs. Freeman that life was like that, Mrs. Freeman would say, “I always said so myself.” Nothing had been arrived at by anyone that had not first been arrived at by her. She was quicker than Mr. Freeman. When Mrs. Hopewell said to her after they had been on the place for a while, “You know, you’re the wheel behind the wheel,” and winked, Mrs. Freeman had said, “I know it. I’ve always been quick. It’s some that are quicker than others.”
“Everybody is different,” Mrs. Hopewell said.
“Yes, most people is,” Mrs. Freeman said.
“It takes all kinds to make the world.”
“I always said it did myself.”
The girl was used to this kind of dialogue for breakfast and more of it for dinner; sometimes they had it for supper too. When they had no guest they ate in the kitchen because that was easier. Mrs. Freeman always managed to arrive at some point during the meal and to watch them finish it. She would stand in the doorway if it were summer but in the winter she would stand with one elbow on top of the refrigerator and look down at them, or she would stand by the gas heater, lifting the back of her skirt slightly. Occasionally she would stand against the wall and roll her head from side to side. At no time was she in any hurry to leave. All this was very trying on Mrs. Hopewell but she was a woman of great patience. She realized that nothing is perfect and that in the Freemans she had good country people and that if, in this day and age, you get good country people, you had better hang onto them.
She had had plenty of experience with trash. Before the Freemans she had averaged one tenant family a year. The wives of these farmers were not the kind you would want to be around you for very long. Mrs. Hopewell, who had divorced her husband long ago, needed someone to walk over the fields with her; and when Joy had to be impressed for these services, her remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum that Mrs. Hopewell would say, “If you can’t come pleasantly, I don’t want you at all,” to which the girl, standing square and rigid-shouldered with her neck thrust slightly forward, would reply, “If you want me, here I am – LIKE I AM.”
Mrs. Hopewell excused this attitude because of the leg (which had been shot off in a hunting accident when Joy was ten). It was hard for Mrs. Hopewell to realize that her child was thirty-two now and that for more than twenty years she had had only one leg. She thought of her still as a child because it tore her heart to think instead of the poor stout girl in her thirties who had never danced a step or had any normal good times. Her name was really Joy but as soon as she was twenty-one and away from home, she had had it legally changed. Mrs. Hopewell was certain that she had thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest name in any language. Then she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy, changed without telling her mother until after she had done it. Her legal name was Hulga.
When Mrs. Hopewell thought the name, Hulga, she thought of the broad blank hull of a battleship. She would not use it. She continued to call her Joy to which the girl responded but in a purely mechanical way.
Hulga had learned to tolerate Mrs. Freeman who saved her from taking walks with her mother. Even Glynese and Carramae were useful when they occupied attention that might otherwise have been directed at her. At first she had thought she could not stand Mrs. Freeman for she had found it was not possible to be rude to her. Mrs. Freeman would take on strange resentments and for days together she would be sullen but the source of her displeasure was always obscure; a direct attack, a positive leer, blatant ugliness to her face – these never touched her. And without warning one day, she began calling her Hulga.
She did not call her that in front of Mrs. Hopewell who would have been incensed but when she and the girl happened to be out of the house together, she would say something and add the name Hulga to the end of it, and the big spectacled Joy-Hulga would scowl and redden as if her privacy had been intruded upon. She considered the name her personal affair. She had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her. She had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when called. She saw it as the name of her highest creative act. One of her major triumphs was that her mother had not been able to turn her dust into Joy, but the greater one was that she had been able to turn it herself into Hulga. However, Mrs. Freeman’s relish for using the name only irritated her. It was as if Mrs. Freeman’s beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far enough behind her face to reach some secret fact. Something about her seemed to fascinate Mrs. Freeman and then one day Hulga realized that it was the artificial leg. Mrs. Freeman had a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children. Of diseases, she preferred the lingering or incurable. Hulga had heard Mrs. Hopewell give her the details of the hunting accident, how the leg had been literally blasted off, how she had never lost consciousness. Mrs. Freeman could listen to it any time as if it had happened an hour ago.
When Hulga stumped into the kitchen in the morning (she could walk without making the awful noise but she made it – Mrs. Hopewell was certain – because it was ugly-sounding), she glanced at them and did not speak. Mrs. Hopewell would be in her red kimono with her hair tied around her head in rags. She would be sitting at the table, finishing her breakfast and Mrs. Freeman would be hanging by her elbow outward from the refrigerator, looking down at the table. Hulga always put her eggs on the stove to boil and then stood over them with her arms folded, and Mrs. Hopewell would look at her – a kind of indirect gaze divided between her and Mrs. Freeman – and would think that if she would only keep herself up a little, she wouldn’t be so bad looking. There was nothing wrong with her face that a pleasant expression wouldn’t help. Mrs. Hopewell said that people who looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not.
Whenever she looked at Joy this way, she could not help but feel that it would have been better if the child had not taken the Ph.D. It had certainly not brought her out any and now that she had it, there was no more excuse for her to go to school again. Mrs. Hopewell thought it was nice for girls to go to school to have a good time but Joy had “gone through.” Anyhow, she would not have been strong enough to go again. The doctors had told Mrs. Hopewell that with the best of care, Joy might see forty-five. She had a weak heart. Joy had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people. She would be in a university lecturing to people who knew what she was talking about. And Mrs. Hopewell could very well picture here there, looking like a scarecrow and lecturing to more of the same. Here she went about all day in a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it. She thought this was funny; Mrs. Hopewell thought it was idiotic and showed simply that she was still a child. She was brilliant but she didn’t have a grain of sense. It seemed to Mrs. Hopewell that every year she grew less like other people and more like herself – bloated, rude, and squint-eyed. And she said such strange things! To her own mother she had said – without warning, without excuse, standing up in the middle of a meal with her face purple and her mouth half full – “Woman! Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!” she had cried sinking down again and staring at her plate, “Malebranche was right: we are not our own light. We are not our own light!” Mrs. Hopewell had no idea to this day what brought that on. She had only made the remark, hoping Joy would take it in, that a smile never hurt anyone. The girl had taken the Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say, “My daughter is a nurse,” or “My daughter is a school teacher,” or even, “My daughter is a chemical engineer.” You could not say, “My daughter is a philosopher.” That was something that had ended with the Greeks and Romans. All day Joy sat on her neck in a deep chair, reading. Sometimes she went for walks but she didn’t like dogs or cats or birds or flowers or nature or nice young men. She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.
One day Mrs. Hopewell had picked up one of the books the girl had just put down and opening it at random, she read, “Science, on the other hand, has to assert its soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is concerned solely with what-is. Nothing – how can it be for science anything but a horror and a phantasm? If science is right, then one thing stands firm: science wishes to know nothing of nothing. Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing.” These words had been underlined with a blue pencil and they worked on Mrs. Hopewell like some evil incantation in gibberish. She shut the book quickly and went out of the room as if she were having a chill.
This morning when the girl came in, Mrs. Freeman was on Carramae. “She thrown up four times after supper,” she said, “and was up twict in the night after three o’clock. Yesterday she didn’t do nothing but ramble in the bureau drawer. All she did. Stand up there and see what she could run up on.”
“She’s got to eat,” Mrs. Hopewell muttered, sipping her coffee, while she watched Joy’s back at the stove. She was wondering what the child had said to the Bible salesman. She could not imagine what kind of a conversation she could possibly have had with him.
He was a tall gaunt hatless youth who had called yesterday to sell them a Bible. He had appeared at the door, carrying a large black suitcase that weighted him so heavily on one side that he had to brace himself against the door facing. He seemed on the point of collapse but he said in a cheerful voice, “Good morning, Mrs. Cedars!” and set the suitcase down on the mat. He was not a bad-looking young man though he had on a bright blue suit and yellow socks that were not pulled up far enough. He had prominent face bones and a streak of sticky-looking brown hair falling across his forehead.
“I’m Mrs. Hopewell,” she said.
“Oh!” he said, pretending to look puzzled but with his eyes sparkling, “I saw it said ‘The Cedars’ on the mailbox so I thought you was Mrs. Cedars!” and he burst out in a pleasant laugh. He picked up the satchel and under cover of a pant, he fell forward into her hall. It was rather as if the suitcase had moved first, jerking him after it. “Mrs. Hopewell!” he said and grabbed her hand. “I hope you are well!” and he laughed again and then all at once his face sobered completely. He paused and gave her a straight earnest look and said, “Lady, I’ve come to speak of serious things.”
“Well, come in,” she muttered, none too pleased because her dinner was almost ready. He came into the parlor and sat down on the edge of a straight chair and put the suitcase between his feet and glanced around the room as if he were sizing her up by it. Her silver gleamed on the two sideboards; she decided he had never been in a room as elegant as this.
“Mrs. Hopewell,” he began, using her name in a way that sounded almost intimate, “I know you believe in Chrustian service.”
“Well, yes,” she murmured.
“I know,” he said and paused, looking very wise with his head cocked on one side, “that you’re a good woman. Friends have told me.”
Mrs. Hopewell never liked to be taken for a fool. “What are you selling?” she asked.
“Bibles,” the young man said and his eye raced around the room before he added, “I see you have no family Bible in your parlor, I see that is the one lack you got!”
Mrs. Hopewell could not say, “My daughter is an atheist and won’t let me keep the Bible in the parlor.” She said, stiffening slightly, “I keep my Bible by my bedside.” This was not the truth. It was in the attic somewhere.
“Lady,” he said, “the word of God ought to be in the parlor.”
“Well, I think that’s a matter of taste,” she began, “I think…”
“Lady,” he said, “for a Chrustian, the word of God ought to be in every room in the house besides in his heart. I know you’re a Chrustian because I can see it in every line of your face.”
She stood up and said, “Well, young man, I don’t want to buy a Bible and I smell my dinner burning.”
He didn’t get up. He began to twist his hands and looking down at them, he said softly, “Well lady, I’ll tell you the truth – not many people want to buy one nowadays and besides, I know I’m real simple. I don’t know how to say a thing but to say it. I’m just a country boy.” He glanced up into her unfriendly face. “People like you don’t like to fool with country people like me!”
“Why!” she cried, “good country people are the salt of the earth! Besides, we all have different ways of doing, it takes all kinds to make the world go ‘round. That’s life!”
“You said a mouthful,” he said.
“Why, I think there aren’t enough good country people in the world!” she said, stirred. “I think that’s what’s wrong with it!”
His face had brightened. “I didn’t intraduce myself,” he said. “I’m Manley Pointer from out in the country around Willohobie, not even from a place, just from near a place.”
“You wait a minute,” she said. “I have to see about my dinner.” She went out to the kitchen and found Joy standing near the door where she had been listening.
“Get rid of the salt of the earth,” she said, “and let’s eat.”
Mrs. Hopewell gave her a pained look and turned the heat down under the vegetables. “I can’t be rude to anybody,” she murmured and went back into the parlor.
He had opened the suitcase and was sitting with a Bible on each knee.
“I appreciate your honesty,” he said. “You don’t see any more real honest people unless you go way out in the country.”
“I know,” she said, “real genuine folks!” Through the crack in the door she heard a groan.
“I guess a lot of boys come telling you they’re working their way through college,” he said, “but I’m not going to tell you that. Somehow,” he said, “I don’t want to go to college. I want to devote my life to Chrustian service. See,” he said, lowering his voice, “I got this heart condition. I may not live long. When you know it’s something wrong with you and you may not live long, well then, lady…” He paused, with his mouth open, and stared at her.
He and Joy had the same condition! She knew that her eyes were filling with tears but she collected herself quickly and murmured, “Won’t you stay for dinner? We’d love to have you!” and was sorry the instant she heard herself say it.
“Yes mam,” he said in an abashed voice. “I would sher love to do that!”
Joy had given him one look on being introduced to him and then throughout the meal had not glanced at him again. He had addressed several remarks to her, which she had pretended not to hear. Mrs. Hopewell could not understand deliberate rudeness, although she lived with it, and she felt she had always to overflow with hospitality to make up for Joy’s lack of courtesy. She urged him to talk about himself and he did. He said he was the seventh child of twelve and that his father had been crushed under a tree when he himself was eight years old. He had been crushed very badly, in fact, almost cut in two and was practically not recognizable. His mother had got along the best she could by hard working and she had always seen that her children went to Sunday School and that they read the Bible every evening. He was now nineteen years old and he had been selling Bibles for four months. In that time he had sold seventy-seven Bibles and had the promise of two more sales. He wanted to become a missionary because he thought that was the way you could do most for people. “He who losest his life shall find it,” he said simply and he was so sincere, so genuine and earnest that Mrs. Hopewell would not for the world have smiled. He prevented his peas from sliding onto the table by blocking them with a piece of bread which he later cleaned his plate with. She could see Joy observing sidewise how he handled his knife and fork and she saw too that every few minutes, the boy would dart a keen appraising glance at the girl as if he were trying to attract her attention.
After dinner Joy cleared the dishes off the table and disappeared and Mrs. Hopewell was left to talk with him. He told her again about his childhood and his father’s accident and about various things that had happened to him. Every five minutes or so she would stifle a yawn. He sat for two hours until finally she told him she must go because she had an appointment in town. He packed his Bibles and thanked her and prepared to leave, but in the doorway he stopped and wring her hand and said that not on any of his trips had he met a lady as nice as her and he asked if he could come again. She had said she would always be happy to see him.
Joy had been standing in the road, apparently looking at something in the distance, when he came down the steps toward her, bent to the side with his heavy valise. He stopped where she was standing and confronted her directly. Mrs. Hopewell could not hear what he said but she trembled to think what Joy would say to him. She could see that after a minute Joy said something and that then the boy began to speak again, making an excited gesture with his free hand. After a minute Joy said something else at which the boy began to speak once more. Then to her amazement, Mrs. Hopewell saw the two of them walk off together, toward the gate. Joy had walked all the way to the gate with him and Mrs. Hopewell could not imagine what they had said to each other, and she had not yet dared to ask.
Mrs. Freeman was insisting upon her attention. She had moved from the refrigerator to the heater so that Mrs. Hopewell had to turn and face her in order to seem to be listening. “Glynese gone out with Harvey Hill again last night,” she said. “She had this sty.”
“Hill,” Mrs. Hopewell said absently, “is that the one who works in the garage?”
“Nome, he’s the one that goes to chiropractor school,” Mrs. Freeman said. “She had this sty. Been had it two days. So she says when he brought her in the other night he says, ‘Lemme get rid of that sty for you,’ and she says, ‘How?’ and he says, ‘You just lay yourself down acrost the seat of that car and I’ll show you.’ So she done it and he popped her neck. Kept on a-popping it several times until she made him quit. This morning,” Mrs. Freeman said, “she ain’t got no sty. She ain’t got no traces of a sty.”
“I never heard of that before,” Mrs. Hopewell said.
“He ast her to marry him before the Ordinary,” Mrs. Freeman went on, “and she told him she wasn’t going to be married in no office.”
“Well, Glynese is a fine girl,” Mrs. Hopewell said. “Glynese and Carramae are both fine girls.”
“Carramae said when her and Lyman was married Lyman said it sure felt sacred to him. She said he said he wouldn’t take five hundred dollars for being married by a preacher.”
“How much would he take?” the girl asked from the stove.
“He said he wouldn’t take five hundred dollars,” Mrs. Freeman repeated.
“Well we all have work to do,” Mrs. Hopewell said.
“Lyman said it just felt more sacred to him,” Mrs. Freeman said. “The doctor wants Carramae to eat prunes. Says instead of medicine. Says them cramps is coming from pressure. You know where I think it is?”
“She’ll be better in a few weeks,” Mrs. Hopewell said.
“In the tube,” Mrs. Freeman said. “Else she wouldn’t be as sick as she is.”
Hulga had cracked her two eggs into a saucer and was bringing them to the table along with a cup of coffee that she had filled too full. She sat down carefully and began to eat, meaning to keep Mrs. Freeman there by questions if for any reason she showed an inclination to leave. She could perceive her mother’s eye on her. The first round-about question would be about the Bible salesman and she did not wish to bring it on. “How did he pop her neck?” she asked.
Mrs. Freeman went into a description of how he had popped her neck. She said he owned a ’55 Mercury but that Glynese said she would rather marry a man with only a ’36 Plymouth who would be married by apreacher. The girl asked what if he had a ’32 Plymouth and Mrs. Freeman said what Glynese had said was a ’36 Plymouth.
Mrs. Hopewell said there were not many girls with Glynese’s common sense. She said what she admired in those girls was their common sense. She said that reminded her that they had had a nice visitor yesterday, a young man selling Bibles. “Lord,” she said, “he bored me to death but he was so sincere and genuine I couldn’t be rude to him. He was just good country people, you know,” she said, “—just the salt of the earth.”
“I seen him walk up,” Mrs. Freeman said, “and then later – I seen him walk off,” and Hulga could feel the slight shift in her voice, the slight insinuation, that he had not walked off alone, had he? Her face remained expressionless but the color rose into her neck and she seemed to swallow it down with the next spoonful of egg. Mrs. Freeman was looking at her as if they had a secret together.
“Well, it takes all kinds of people to make the world go ‘round,” Mrs. Hopewell said. “It’s very good we aren’t all alike.”
“Some people are more alike than others,” Mrs. Freeman said.
Hulga got up and stumped, with about twice the noise that was necessary, into her room and locked the door. She was to meet the Bible salesman at ten o’clock at the gate. She had thought about it half the night. She had started thinking of it as a great joke and then she had begun to see profound implications in it. She had lain in bed imagining dialogues for them that were insane on the surface but that reached below the depths that no Bible salesman would be aware of. Their conversation yesterday had been of this kind.
He had stopped in front of her and had simply stood there. His face was bony and sweaty and bright, with a little pointed nose in the center of it, and his look was different from what it had been at the dinner table. He was gazing at her with open curiosity, with fascination, like a child watching a new fantastic animal at the zoo, and he was breathing as if he had run a great distance to reach her. His gaze seemed somehow familiar but she could not think where she had been regarded with it before. For almost a minute he didn’t say anything. Then on what seemed an insuck of breath, he whispered, “You ever ate a chicken that was two days old?”
The girl looked at him stonily. He might have just put this question up for consideration at the meeting of a philosophical association. “Yes,” she presently replied as if she had considered it from all angles.
“It must have been mighty small!” he said triumphantly and shook all over with little nervous giggles, getting very red in the face, and subsiding finally into his gaze of complete admiration, while the girl’s expression remained exactly the same.
“How old are you?” he asked softly.
She waited some time before she answered. Then in a flat voice she said, “Seventeen.”
His smiles came in succession like waves breaking on the surface of a little lake. “I see you got a wooden leg,” he said. “I think you’re real brave. I think you’re real sweet.”
The girl stood blank and solid and silent.
“Walk to the gate with me,” he said. “You’re a brave sweet little thing and I liked you the minute I seen you walk in the door.”
Hulga began to move forward.
“What’s your name?” he asked, smiling down on the top of her head.
“Hulga,” she said.
“Hulga,” he murmured, “Hulga. Hulga. I never heard of anybody name Hulga before. You’re shy, aren’t you, Hulga?” he asked.
She nodded, watching his large red hand on the handle of the giant valise.
“I like girls that wear glasses,” he said. “I think a lot. I’m not like these people that a serious thought don’t ever enter their heads. It’s because I may die.”
“I may die too,” she said suddenly and looked up at him. His eyes were very small and brown, glittering feverishly.
“Listen,” he said, “don’t you think some people was meant to meet on account of what all they got in common and all? Like they both think serious thoughts and all?” He shifted the valise to his other hand so that the hand nearest her was free. He caught hold of her elbow and shook it a little. “I don’t work on Saturday,” he said. “I like to walk in the woods and see what Mother Nature is wearing. O’er the hills and far away. Picnics and things. Couldn’t we go on a picnic tomorrow? Say yes, Hulga,” he said and gave her a dying look as if he felt his insides about to drop out of him. He had even seemed to sway slightly toward her.
During the night she had imagined that she seduced him. She imagined that the two of them walked on the place until they came to the storage barn beyond the two back fields and there, she imagined, that things came to such a pass that she very easily seduced him and that then, of course, she had to reckon with his remorse. True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind. She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper nderstanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful.
She set off for the gate at exactly ten o’clock, escaping without drawing Mrs. Hopewell’s attention. She didn’t take anything to eat, forgetting that food is usually taken on a picnic. She wore a pair of slacks and a dirty white shirt, and as an afterthought, she had put some Vapex on the collar of it since she did not own any perfume. When she reached the gate no one was there.
She looked up and down the empty highway and had the furious feeling that she had been tricked, that he only meant to make her walk to the gate after the idea of him. Then suddenly he stood up, very tall, from behind a bush on the opposite embankment. Smiling, he lifted his hat which was new and wide-brimmed. He had not worn it yesterday and she wondered if he had bought it for the occasion. It was toast-colored with a red and white band around it and was slightly too large for him. He stepped from behind the bush still carrying the black valise. He had on the same suit and the same yellow socks sucked down in his shoes from walking. He crossed the highway and said, “I knew you’d come!”
The girl wondered acidly how he had known this. She pointed to the valise and asked, “Why did you bring your Bibles?”
He took her elbow, smiling down on her as if he could not stop. “You can never tell when you’ll need the word of God, Hulga,” he said. She had a moment in which she doubted that this was actually happening and then they began to climb the embankment. They went down into the pasture toward the woods. The boy walked lightly by her side, bouncing on his toes. The valise did not seem to be heavy today; he even swung it. They crossed half the pasture without saying anything and then, putting his hand easily on the small of her back, he asked softly, “Where does your wooden leg join on?”
She turned an ugly red and glared at him and for an instant the boy looked abashed. “I didn’t mean you no harm,” he said. “I only meant you’re so brave and all. I guess God takes care of you.”
“No,” she said, looking forward and walking fast, “I don’t even believe in God.”
At this he stopped and whistled. “No!” he exclaimed as if he were too astonished to say anything else.
She walked on and in a second he was bouncing at her side, fanning with his hat. “That’s very unusual for a girl,” he remarked, watching her out of the corner of his eye. When they reached the edge of the wood, he put his hand on her back again and drew her against him without a word and kissed her heavily.
The kiss, which had more pressure than feeling behind it, produced that extra surge of adrenalin in the girl that enables one to carry a packed trunk out of a burning house, but in her, the power went at once to the brain. Even before he released her, her mind, clear and detached and ironic anyway, was regarding him from a great distance, with amusement but with pity. She had never been kissed before and she was pleased to discover that it was an unexceptional experience and all a matter of the mind’s control. Some people might enjoy drain water if they were told it was vodka. When the boy, looking expectant but uncertain, pushed her gently away, she turned and walked on, saying nothing as if such business, for her, were common enough.
He came along panting at her side, trying to help her when he saw a root that she might trip over. He caught and held back the long swaying blades of thorn vine until she had passed beyond them. She led the way and he came breathing heavily behind her. Then they came out on a sunlit hillside, sloping softly into another one a little smaller. Beyond, they could see the rusted top of the old barn where the extra hay was stored.
The hill was sprinkled with small pink weeds. “Then you ain’t saved?” he asked suddenly, stopping.
The girl smiled. It was the first time she had smiled at him at all. “In my economy,” she said, “I’m saved and you are damned but I told you I didn’t believe in God.”
Nothing seemed to destroy the boy’s look of admiration. He gazed at her now as if the fantastic animal at the zoo had put its paw through the bars and given him a loving poke. She thought he looked as if he wanted to kiss her again and she walked on before he had the chance.
“Ain’t there somewheres we can sit down sometime?” he murmured, his voice softening toward the end of the sentence.
“In that barn,” she said.
They made for it rapidly as if it might slide away like a train. It was a large two-story barn, cook and dark inside. The boy pointed up the ladder that led into the loft and said, “It’s too bad we can’t go up there.”
“Why can’t we?” she asked.
“Yer leg,” he said reverently.
The girl gave him a contemptuous look and putting both hands on the ladder, she climbed it while he stood below, apparently awestruck. She pulled herself expertly through the opening and then looked down at him and said, “Well, come on if you’re coming,” and he began to climb the ladder, awkwardly bringing the suitcase with him. “We won’t need the Bible,” she observed.
“You never can tell,” he said, panting. After he had got into the loft, he was a few seconds catching his breath. She had sat down in a pile of straw. A wide sheath of sunlight, filled with dust particles, slanted over her. She lay back against a bale, her face turned away, looking out the front opening of the barn where hay was thrown from a wagon into the loft. The two pink-speckled hillsides lay back against a dark ridge of woods. The sky was cloudless and cold blue. The boy dropped down by her side and put one arm under her and the other over her and began methodically kissing her face, making little noises like a fish. He did not remove his hat but it was pushed far enough back not to interfere. When her glasses got in his way, he took them off of her and slipped them into his pocket.
The girl at first did not return any of the kisses but presently she began to and after she had put several on his cheek, she reached his lips and remained there, kissing him again and again as if she were trying to draw all the breath out of him. His breath was clear and sweet like a child’s and the kisses were sticky like a child’s. He mumbled about loving her and about knowing when he first seen her that he loved her, but the mumbling was like the sleepy fretting of a child being put to sleep by his mother. Her mind, throughout this, never stopped or lost itself for a second to her feelings. “You ain’t said you loved me none,” he whispered finally, pulling back from her. “You got to say that.”
She looked away from him off into the hollow sky and then down at a black ridge and then down farther into what appeared to be two green swelling lakes. She didn’t realize he had taken her glasses but this landscape could not seem exceptional to her for she seldom paid any close attention to her surroundings.
“You got to say it,” he repeated. “You got to say you love me.”
She was always careful how she committed herself. “In a sense,” she began, “if you use the word loosely, you might say that. But it’s not a word I use. I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.”
The boy was frowning. “You got to say it. I said it and you got to say it,” he said.
The girl looked at him almost tenderly. “You poor baby,” she murmured. “It’s just as well you don’t understand,” and she pulled him by the neck, face-down, against her. “We are all damned,” she said, “but some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there’s nothing to see. It’s a
kind of salvation.”
The boy’s astonished eyes looked blankly through the ends of her hair. “Okay,” he almost whined, “but do you love me or don’tcher?”
“Yes,” she said and added, “in a sense. But I must tell you something. There mustn’t be anything dishonest between us.” She lifted his head and looked him in the eye. “I am thirty years old,” she said. “I have a number of degrees.”
The boy’s look was irritated but dogged. “I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care a thing about what all you done. I just want to know if you love me or don’tcher?” and he caught her to him and wildly planted her face with kisses until she said, “Yes, yes.”
“Okay then,” he said, letting her go. “Prove it.”
She smiled, looking dreamily out on the shifty landscape. She had seduced him without even making up her mind to try. “How?” she asked, feeling that he should be delayed a little.
He leaned over and put his lips to her ear. “Show me where your wooden leg joins on,” he whispered. The girl uttered a sharp little cry and her face instantly drained of color. The obscenity of the suggestion was not what shocked her. As a child she had sometimes been subject to feelings of shame but education had removed the last traces of that as a good surgeon scrapes for cancer; she would no more have felt it over what he was asking than she would have believed in his Bible. But she was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail. No one ever touched it but her. She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away. “No,” she said.
“I known it,” he muttered, sitting up. “You’re just playing me for a sucker.”
“On no no!” she cried. “It joins on at the knee. Only at the knee. Why do you want to see it?”
The boy gave her a long penetrating look. “Because,” he said, “it’s what makes you different. You ain’t like anybody else.”
She sat staring at him. There was nothing about her face or her round freezing-blue eyes to indicate that this had moved her; but she felt as if her heart had stopped and left her mind to pump her blood. She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence. This boy, with an instinct that came from beyond wisdom, had touched the truth about her. When after a minute, she said in a hoarse high voice, “All right,” it was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his.
Very gently, he began to roll the slack leg up. The artificial limb, in a white sock and brown flat shoe, was bound in a heavy material like canvas and ended in an ugly jointure where it was attached to the stump. The boy’s face and his voice were entirely reverent as he uncovered it and
said, “Now show me how to take it off and on.”
She took it off for him and put it back on again and then he took it off himself, handling it as tenderly as if it were a real one. “See!” he said with a delighted child’s face. “Now I can do it myself!”
“Put it back on,” she said. She was thinking that she would run away with him and that every night he would take the leg off and every morning put it back on again. “Put it back on,” she said.
“Not yet,” he murmured, setting it on its foot out of her reach. “Leave it off for awhile. You got me instead.”
She gave a little cry of alarm but he pushed her down and began to kiss her again. Without the leg she felt entirely dependent on him. Her brain seemed to have stopped thinking altogether and to be about some other function that it was not very good at. Different expressions raced back and forth over her face. Every now and then the boy, his eyes like two steel spikes, would glance behind him where the leg stood. Finally she pushed him off and said, “Put it back on me now.”
“Wait,” he said. He leaned the other way and pulled the valise toward him and opened it. It had a pale blue spotted lining and there were only two Bibles in it. He took one of these out and opened the cover of it. It was hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey, a pack of cards, and a small blue box with printing on it. He laid these out in front of her one at a time in an evenly-spaced row, like one presenting offerings at the shrine of a goddess. He put the blue box in her hand. THIS PRODUCT TO BE USED ONLY FOR THE PREVENTION OF DISEASE, she read, and dropped it. The boy was unscrewing the top of the flask. He stopped and pointed, with a smile, to the deck of cards. It was not an ordinary deck but one with an obscene picture on the back of each card. “Take a swig,” he said, offering her the bottle first. He held it in front of her, but like one mesmerized, she did not move.
Her voice when she spoke had an almost pleading sound. “Aren’t you,” she murmured, “aren’t you just good country people?”
The boy cocked his head. He looked as if he were just beginning to understand that she might be trying to insult him. “Yeah,” he said, curling his lip slightly, “but it ain’t held me back none. I’m as good as you any day in the week.”
“Give me my leg,” she said.
He pushed it farther away with his foot. “Come on now, let’s begin to have us a good time,” he said coaxingly. “We ain’t got to know one another good yet.”
“Give me my leg!” she screamed and tried to lunge for it but he pushed her down easily.
“What’s the matter with you all of a sudden?” he asked, frowning as he screwed the top on the flask and put it quickly back inside the Bible. “You just a while ago said you didn’t believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!”
Her face was almost purple. “You’re a Christian!” she hissed. “You’re a fine Christian! You’re just like them all – say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian, you’re…”
The boy’s mouth was set angrily. “I hope you don’t think,” he said in a lofty indignant tone, “that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!”
“Give me my leg!” she screeched. He jumped up so quickly that she barely saw him sweep the cards and the blue box back into the Bible and throw the Bible into the valise. She saw him grab the leg and then she saw it for an instant slanted forlornly across the inside of the suitcase with a Bible at either side of its opposite ends. He slammed the lid shut and snatched up the valise and swung it down the hole and then stepped through himself. When all of him had passed but his head, he turned and regarded her with a look that no longer had any admiration in it.
“I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,” he said. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long. And I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga,” he said, using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” and then the toast-colored hat disappeared down the hole and the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight. When she turned her churning face toward the opening, she saw his blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake.
Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, who were in the back pasture, digging up onions, saw him emerge a little later from the woods and head across the meadow toward the highway. “Why, that looks like that nice dull young man that tried to sell me a Bible yesterday,” Mrs. Hopewell said, squinting. “He must have been selling them to the Negroes back in there. He was so simple,” she said, “but I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple.”
Mrs. Freeman’s gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared under the hill. Then she returned her attention to the evil-smelling onion shoot she was lifting from the ground. “Some can’t be that simple,” she said. “I know I never could.”
Part II of Summer Assignment: Read How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. You can either purchase this book, or read it online by clicking the following link:
Please read all of the chapters EXCEPT chapters 16-17, and chapter 27.
When you are done, pick TEN of the prompts below, and respond to the questions in 1-2 well-developed paragraphs. Please type your responses, and present them in MLA formatting. You will be graded using the following rubric:
Answered question: 0-3 pts
Thoughtful reflection: 1pt
Does the response fully answer the question requirements?
Are the thoughts original, reflective, insightful, and considers beyond the simple or obvious?
Is the response grammar-error free, showing a high degree of quality in proofreading and spell-checking?
Introduction: How'd He Do That? How do memory, symbol, and pattern affect the reading of literature? How does the recognition of patterns make it easier to read complicated literature? Discuss a time when your appreciation of a literary work was enhanced by understanding symbol or pattern, using references (do not need to be quotes) to the text.
Chapter 1 -- Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It's Not)
List the five aspects of the QUEST and then apply them to something you have read (or viewed) in the form used on pages 3-5.
Chapter 2 -- Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion
Choose a meal from a literary work and apply the ideas of Chapter 2 to this literary depiction.
Chapter 3: --Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires What are the essentials of the Vampire story? Apply this to a literary work you have read or viewed.
Chapter 4 -- If It's Square, It's a Sonnet Select three sonnets and show which form they are. Discuss how their content reflects the form. (Submit copies of the sonnets, marked to show your analysis).
Chapter 5 --Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? Define intertextuality. Discuss three examples that have helped you in reading specific works.
Chapter 6 -- When in Doubt, It's from Shakespeare... Discuss a work that you are familiar with that alludes to or reflects Shakespeare. Show how the author uses this connection thematically. Read pages 44-46 carefully. In these pages, Foster shows how Fugard reflects Shakespeare through both plot and theme. In your discussion, focus on theme.
Chapter 7 -- ...Or the Bible Explain how biblical allusions have been used in a film or story that you have seen or read.
Chapter 8 -- Hanseldee and Greteldum Think of a work of literature that reflects a fairy tale. Discuss the parallels. Does it create irony or deepen appreciation?
Chapter 9 -- It's Greek to Me Write a free verse poem derived or inspired by characters or situations from Greek mythology.
Chapter 10 -- It's More Than Just Rain or Snow Discuss the importance of weather in a specific literary work, not in terms of plot.
Chapter 11 --...More Than It's Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence Present examples of the two kinds of violence found in literature. Show how the effects are different.
Chapter 12 -- Is That a Symbol? Identify a major symbol in a work that you have read. Explain what it represents, and how it enhances the story.
Chapter 13 -- It's All Political Assume that Foster is right and "it is all political." Use his criteria to show that one of the major works assigned to you as a student in high school is political.
Chapter 14 -- Yes, She's a Christ Figure, Too Apply the criteria on page 119 to a major character in a significant literary work. Try to choose a character that will have many matches. This is a particularly apt tool for analyzing film -- for example, Star Wars, Cool Hand Luke, Excalibur, Malcolm X, Braveheart, Spartacus, Gladiator and Ben-Hur.
Chapter 15 -- Flights of Fancy
Select a literary work in which flight signifies escape or freedom. Explain in detail.
Chapter 18 -- If She Comes Up, It's Baptism Think of a "baptism scene" from a significant literary work. How was the character different after the experience? Discuss.
Chapter 19 -- Geography Matters...
Discuss at least four different aspects of a specific literary work that Foster would classify under "geography."
Chapter 20 -- ...So Does Season Find a poem that mentions a specific season. Then discuss how the poet uses the season in a meaningful, traditional, or unusual way. (Submit a copy of the poem with your analysis.)
Interlude -- One Story Write your own definition for archetype. Then identify an archetypal story and apply it to a literary work with which you are familiar.
Chapter 21 -- Marked for Greatness Figure out Harry Potter's scar. If you aren't familiar with Harry Potter, select another character with a physical imperfection and analyze its implications for characterization.
Chapter 22 -- He's Blind for a Reason, You Know
Chapter 23 -- It's Never Just Heart Disease...
Chapter 24 -- ...And Rarely Just Illness Recall two characters who died of a disease in a literary work. Consider how these deaths reflect the "principles governing the use of disease in literature" (215-217). Discuss the effectiveness of the death as related to plot, theme, or symbolism.
Chapter 25 -- Don't Read with Your Eyes
After reading Chapter 25, choose a scene or episode from a novel, play or epic written before the twentieth century. Contrast how it could be viewed by a reader from the twenty-first century with how it might be viewed by a contemporary reader. Focus on specific assumptions that the author makes, assumptions that would not make it in this century.
Chapter 26 -- Is He Serious? And Other Ironies Select an ironic literary work and explain the multi-vocal nature of the irony in the work.