On Writingby Eudora Welty
Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist. On Writing presents the answers in seven concise chapters discussing/i>/b>… See more details below
Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist. On Writing presents the answers in seven concise chapters discussing the subjects most important to the narrative craft, and which every fiction writer should know, such as place, voice, memory, and language. But even more important is what Welty calls “the mystery” of fiction writing—how the writer assembles language and ideas to create a work of art.
Originally part of her larger work The Eye of the Story but never before published in a stand-
alone volume, On Writing is a handbook every fiction writer, whether novice or master, should keep within arm’s reach. Like The Elements of Style, On Writing is concise and fundamental, authoritative and timeless—as was Eudora Welty herself.
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Read an Excerpt
Looking at Short Stories
Looking at short stories as readers and writers together should be a companionable thing. And why not? Stories in their bardic and fairy-tale beginnings were told, the listeners—and judgers—all in a circle.
E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel, described the great age of the narrative:
Neanderthal man listened to stories, if one may judge by the shape of his skull. The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or woolly-rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.
That suspense is still with us, but it seems to me that now it exists as something shared. Reader and writer make it a double experience. It is part of the great thing in which they share most—pleasure. And it is certainly part of the strong natural curiosity which readers feel to varying degree and which writers feel to the most compelling degree as to how any one story ever gets told. The only way a writer can satisfy his own curiosity is to write it. And how different this already makes it from telling it! Suspense, pleasure, curiosity, all are bound up in the making of the written story.
Forster went on to distinguish between what Neanderthal man told, the narrative thread, and what the written story has made into an art, the plot. “The king died and then the queen died” is the narrative thread; “The king died and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. We have all come from asking What next? to asking Why? The word “which,” of course, opened up everything, or as much of everything as the writer is able to handle.
To take a story:
Jack Potter, the town marshal of Yellow Sky, has gone to San Anton’ and got married and is bringing his bride back in a Pullman as a dazzling surprise for his hometown. And while the train is on its way, back in Yellow Sky Scratchy Wilson gets drunk and turns loose with both hands. Everybody runs to cover: he has come to shoot up the town. “And his boots had red tops with gilded imprints, of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England . . . The only sounds were his terrible invitations . . . He comfortably fusilladed the windows of his most intimate friend. The man was playing with the town; it was a toy for him.” The train comes in, Scratchy and the marshal are face to face, and Potter says, “I ain’ t got a gun on me, Scratchy,” and takes only a minute to make up his mind to be shot on his wedding day. “If you ain’t got a gun, why ain’t you got a gun?” “I ain’t got a gun because I’ve just come from San Anton’ with my wife. I’m married.” “Married? Married? . . . Is this the lady?” “Yes; this is the lady.” “ ‘Well,’ said Wilson at last, slowly, I s’pose it’s all off now.’ He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains.” He picked up his starboard revolver, and, placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away.
Two predicaments meet here, in Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” You might say they are magnetized toward each other—and collide. One is vanquished with neatness and absurdity; as he goes away, Scratchy’s “feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.” Here are the plainest equivalents of comedy, two situations in a construction simple as a seesaw, and not without a seesaw’ s kind of pleasure in reading; like Scratchy Wilson, Crane is playing with us here.
In Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” there is only one character and a single situation; Miss Brill’s action con- sists nearly altogether in sitting down—she goes out to sit in the park, returns to sit on her bed. There is no colli- sion. Rather, the forces meeting in the public gardens have, at the story’s end, passed through each other and come out at the other side; there has been not a collision, but a change—something more significant. This is because, although there is one small situation going on, a large, complex one is implied. Life itself corresponds to the part of Scratchy Wilson, so to speak. Not violent life, merely life in a park on Sunday afternoon in Paris. All that it usually does for Miss Brill is promenade, yet, life being life, it does finally threaten. How much more deadly to such a lady than a flourished pistol is a remark overheard about herself. Reality comes to leer at her from a pleasant place, and she has not come prepared to bear it. And so she, who in her innocence could spare even pity for this world—pity, the spectator’s emotion—is defeated. A word is spoken and the blow falls and Miss Brill retires, ridiculously easy to mow down, as the man with the pistols was easy to stare down in “Yellow Sky” for comedy’ s sake. But Miss Brill was from the first defenseless and on the losing side; her defeat is the deeper for it and one feels sure it is for always. So this story, instead of being a simple situation, is an impression of a situation, and tells more for being so.
Looking at these two stories by way of their plots in skeleton, we can’ t help but notice something: their plots are not unlike. “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” is its more unpretentious form, “Miss Brill” shows an interesting variation. It is a plot with two sides, or two halves, or two opposites, or two states of mind or feeling side by side; even one such in repeat would be a form of this. The plot is, of course, life versus death, which includes nearly every story in the world.
It could be said equally well that most stories (and novels too) have plots of the errand of search. An idea this pervasive simply pervades life, and the generality that could include in one quick list “The Bear,” “The Jolly Corner,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “Araby” doesn’t tell us really anything.
And so, plainly, we must distinguish plots not by their skeletons but by their full bodies; for they are embodiments, little worlds. Here is another: let us try to distinguish it as if it were literally a little world, and spinning closely now into our vision.
Now, the first thing we notice about this story is that we can’t really see its solid outlines—it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what obscures, at first glance, its plain real shape.
We are bearing in mind that the atmosphere in a story may be not the least of its glories, and also the fact that it may give a first impression that will prove contrary to what lies under it. Some action stories fling off the brightest clouds of obscuring and dazzling light, like ours here. Penetrate that atmosphere and the object may show quite dark within, for all its clouds of speed, those primary colors of red and yellow and blue. It looks like one of Ernest Hemingway’ s stories, and it is.
A story behaves, it goes through motions—that’s part of it. Some stories leave a train of light behind them, meteor-like, so that much later than they strike our eyes we may see their meaning like an aftereffect. And Faulkner’ s seem not meteors but comets; they have a course of their own that brings them around more than once; they reappear in their own time in the sense that they reiterate their meaning and show a whole further story over and beyond their single significance.
If we have thought of Hemingway’s stories as being bare and solid as billiard balls, so scrupulously cleaned of adjectives, of every unneeded word, as they are, of being plain throughout as a verb is plain, we may come to think twice about it, from our stargazer distance. The atmosphere that cloaks D. H. Lawrence’s stories is of sensation, which is pure but thick cover, a cloak of self-illuminating air, but the atmosphere that surrounds Hemingway’s is just as thick and to some readers less illuminating. Action can indeed be inscrutable, more so than sensation can. It can be just as voluptuous, too, just as vaporous, and, as I am able to see it, much more desperately concealing.
In one of Hemingway’s early stories, “Indian Camp,” Nick goes with his father, a doctor, to see a sick Indian woman. She is suffering in labor and the doctor operates on her without an anaesthetic. In the bunk above her head, her husband lies with a sore foot. After the operation is over and the child successfuly born, the husband is found to have slit his throat because he had not been able to bear his wife’s suffering. Nick asks, “Is dying hard, Daddy?” “No, I think it’s pretty easy,” his father says.
Is this still a red and blue world? I see it as dark as night. Not that it is obscure; rather, it’s opaque. Action can be radiant, but in this writer who has action to burn, it is not. The stories are opaque by reason of his intention, which is to moralize. We are to be taught by Hemingway, who is instructive by method, that the world is dangerous and full of fear, and that there is a way we had better be. There is nothing for it but, with bravery, to observe the ritual. And so action can step in front of reality just as surely and with more agility than even sentimentality can. Our belligerent planet Mars has an unknown and unrevealed heart.
Nevertheless, this is not where we stop seeing. For what comes of this, his method? In a painting by Goya, who himself used light, action and morality dramatically, of course, the bullring and the great turbulent wall of spectators are cut in diagonal halves by a great shadow of afternoon (unless you see it as the dark sliced away by the clear, golden light): half the action revealed and half hidden in dense, clotting shade. It’s like this in Hemingway’s plots. And it seems to be the halving that increases the story.
One power of his, his famous use of dialogue, derives as well from the fact that something is broken in two; language slips, meets a barrier, a shadow is inserted between the speakers. It is an obscuring and at the same time a revealing way to write dialogue, and only great skill can manage it—and make us aware at the same time that communication of a limited kind is now going on as best it can.
As we now see Hemingway’s story, not transparent, not radiant, but lit from outside the story, from a moral source, we see that light’s true nature: it is a spotlight. And his stories are all taking place as entirely in the present as plays we watch being acted on the stage. Pasts and futures are among the things his characters have not. Outside this light, they are nothing.
Clearly, the fact that stories have plots in common is of no more account than that many people have blue eyes. Plots are, indeed, what the story writer sees with, and so do we as we read. The plot is the Why. Why? is asked and replied to at various depths; the fishes in the sea are bigger the deeper we go. To learn that character is a more awe- inspiring fish and (in a short story, though not, I think, in a novel) one some degrees deeper down than situation, we have only to read Chekhov. What constitutes the reality of his characters is what they reveal to us. And the possibility that they may indeed reveal everything is what makes fictional characters differ so greatly from us in real life; yet isn’t it strange that they don’t really seem to differ? This is one clue to the extraordinary magnitude of character in fiction. Characters in the plot connect us with the vastness of our secret life, which is endlessly explorable. This is their role. What happens to them is what they have been put here to show.
In his story “The Darling,” the darling’s first husband, the theatre manager, dies suddenly because of the darling’ s sweet passivity; this is the causality of fiction. In everyday or real life he might have held on to his health for years. But under Chekhov’s hand he is living and dying in dependence on, and in revelation of, Olenka’s character. He can only last a page and a half. Only by force of the story’s circumstance is he here at all; Olenka took him up to begin with because he lived next door.
Olenka listened to Kukin with silent gravity, and sometimes tears came into her eyes. In the end his misfortunes touched her; she grew to love him. He was a small thin man, with a yellow face; as he talked his mouth worked on one side, and there was always an expression of despair on his face; yet he aroused a deep and genuine affection in her. She was always fond of someone, and could not exist without lov- ing. In earlier days she had loved her papa, who now sat in a darkened room, breathing with difficulty; she had loved her aunt, who used to come every other year from Bryansk; and before that, when she was at school, she had loved her French master. She was a gentle, soft-hearted, compassionate girl, with mild, tender eyes and very good health. At the sight of her full rosy cheeks, her soft white neck with a little dark mole on it, and the kind, naïve smile, which came into her face when she listened to anything pleasant, men thought, “Yes, not half bad,” and smiled too, while lady-visitors could not refrain from seizing her hand in the middle of a conversation, exclaiming in a gush of delight, “You darling!”
Kukin proposes and they are married.
And when he had a closer view of her neck and her plump, fine shoulders, he threw up his hand and said “You darling!” . . . And what Kukin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated. Like him she despised the public for their ignorance and indifference to art; she took part in the rehearsals, she corrected the actors, she kept an eye on the behavior of the musicians, and when there was an unfavorable notice in the local paper, she shed tears, and then went to the editor’s office to set things right . . .
And when Kukin dies, Olenka’s cry of heartbreak is this: “Vanitchka, my precious, my darling! Why did I ever meet you! Why did I know you and love you! Your poor brokenhearted Olenka is all alone without you!”
With variations the pattern is repeated, and we are made to feel it as plot, aware of its clear open stress, the variations all springing from Chekhov’s boundless and minute perception of character. The timber-merchant, another neighbor, is the one who walks home from the funeral with Olenka. The outcome follows tenderly, is only natural. After three days, he calls. “He did not stay long, only about ten minutes, and he did not say much, but when he left, Olenka loved him—loved him so much that she lay awake all night in a perfect fever.”
Olenka and Pustovalov get along very well together when they are married.
“Timber gets dearer every year; the price rises twenty per cent,” she would say to her customers and friends . . . “And the freight!” she would add, covering her cheeks with her hands in horror, “the freight!” . . . It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade for ages and ages; and that the most important and necessary thing in life was timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in the very sound of words such as “post,” “beam,” “pole,” “batten,” “lath,” “plank,” and the like.
Even in her dreams Olenka is in the timber business, dreaming of “perfect mountains of planks and boards,” and cries out in her sleep, so that Pustovalov says to her tenderly, “Olenka, what’s the matter, darling? Cross yourself!” But the timber merchant inevitably goes out in the timber yard one day without his cap on; he catches cold and dies, to leave Olenka a widow once more. “I’ve nobody, now you’ve left me, my darling,” she sobs after the funeral. “How can I live without you?”
And the timber merchant is succeeded by a veterinary surgeon—who gets transferred to Siberia. But the plot is not repetition—it is direction. The love which Olenka bears to whatever is nearest her reaches its final and, we discover, its truest mold in maternalism: for there it is most naturally innocent of anything but formless, thoughtless, blameless embracing; the true innocence is in never perceiv- ing. Only mother love could endure in a pursuit of such blind regard, caring so little for the reality of either life involved so long as love wraps them together, Chekhov tells us—unpretentiously, as he tells everything, and with the simplest of concluding episodes. Olenka’s character is seen purely then for what it is: limpid reflection, mindless and purposeless regard, love that falls like the sun and rain on all alike, vacant when there is nothing to reflect.
We know this because, before her final chance to love, Olenka is shown to us truly alone:
[She] got thinner and plainer; and when people met her in the street they did not look at her as they used to, and did not smile to her; evidently her best years were over and left behind, and now a new sort of life had begun for her, which did not bear thinking about . . . And what was worst of all, she had no opinions of any sort. She saw the objects about her and understood what she saw, but could not form any opinions about them, and did not know what to talk about. And how awful it is not to have any opinions! She wanted a love that would absorb her whole being, her whole soul and reason—that would give her ideas and an object in life, and would warm her old blood.
The answer is Sasha, the ten-year-old son of the veterinary surgeon, an unexpected blessing from Siberia—a schoolchild. The veterinarian has another wife now, but this no longer matters. “Olenka, with arms akimbo, walked about the yard giving directions. Her face was beaming, and she was brisk and alert, as though she had waked from a long sleep . . .” “An island is a piece of land entirely surrounded by water,” Sasha reads aloud. “ ‘An island is a piece of land,’ she repeated, and this was the first opinion to which she gave utterance with positive conviction, after so many years of silence and dearth of ideas.” She would follow Sasha halfway to school, until he told her to go back. She would go to bed thinking blissfully of Sasha, “who lay sound asleep in the next room, sometimes crying out in his sleep, ‘I’ll give it to you! Get away! Shut up!’ ”
The darling herself is the story; all else is sacrificed to her; deaths and departures are perfunctory and to be expected. The last words of the story are the child’s and a protest, but they are delivered in sleep, as indeed protest to the darlings of this world will always be—out of inward and silent rebellion alone, as this master makes plain.
It is when the plot, whatever it is, is nearest to becoming the same thing on the outside as it is deep inside, that it is purest. When it is identifiable in every motion and progression of its own with the motions and progressions of the story’s feeling and its intensity, then this is plot put to its highest use.
This brings us to another story.
One evening, March was standing with her back to the sunset, her gun under her arm, her hair pushed up under her cap. She was half watching, half musing. It was her constant state. Her eyes were keen and observant, but her inner mind took no notice of what she saw. She was always lapsing into this odd, rapt state, her mouth rather screwed up. It was a question whether she was there, actually, consciously present, or not . . . What was she thinking about? Heaven knows. Her consciousness was, as it were, held back.
She lowered her eyes and suddenly saw the fox. He was looking up at her. His chin was pressed down, and his eyes were looking up. They met her eyes. And he knew her. She was spellbound—she knew he knew her. So he looked into her eyes, and her soul failed her. He knew her, he was not daunted.
She struggled, confusedly she came to herself, and saw him making off, with slow leaps over some fallen boughs, slow, impudent jumps. Then he glanced over his shoulder, and ran smoothly away. She saw his brush held smooth like a feather, she saw his white buttocks twinkle. And he was gone, softly, soft as the wind.
In this long story by D. H. Lawrence, “The Fox,” March and Banford, two girls, run a chicken farm by themselves in the country. As we see, it has its fox. They struggle against his encroachments, also against poverty and the elements, until a young soldier on leave, Henry, appears in the door one night. He has a vague story about his grandfather’s once having lived here. March, the hunter and the man of the place, has not, as you know, shot the fox. But she has been, to use her word to herself, “impressed” by him. And here is Henry:
He had a ruddy, roundish face, with fairish hair, rather long, flattened to his forehead with sweat. His eyes were blue, and very bright and sharp. On his cheeks, on the fresh ruddy skin, were fine fine hairs like a down, but sharper. It gave him a slightly glistening look . . . He stooped, thrusting his head forward . . . He stared brightly, very keenly, from girl to girl, particularly at March, who stood pale, with great dilated eyes. She still had the gun in her hand. Behind her, Banford, clinging to the sofa arm, was shrinking away, with half-averted head.
So Henry, not on any account because of his cock-and-bull story, is taken in to spend his leave here. As expected by all, he proves himself a calculating, willful being, and proposes to marry March.
He scarcely admitted his intention to himself. He kept it as a secret even from himself . . . He would have to go gently . . . It’s no good walking out into the forest and saying to the deer: “Please fall to my gun.” No, it is a slow, subtle battle . . . It is not so much what you do, when you go out hunting, as how you feel. You have to be subtle and cunning, and absolutely, fatally ready . . . It is a subtle, profound battle of wills, which takes place in the invisible. And it is a battle never finished till your bullet goes home . . . It is your own will which carries the bullet into the heart of your quarry . . . And it was as a young hunter that he wanted to bring down March as his quarry, to make her his wife.
Dreams occur, the fox prowls, March and Banford suffer and argue while Henry, prowling, exerts and practices his will: the farm’s fox is disposed of by him.
Here we are at the heart of this story: One night, March dreamed vividly. She dreamed she heard a singing outside, which she could not understand, sing- ing that roamed round the house, in the fields and in the darkness. It moved her so, that she felt she must weep. She went out, and suddenly she knew it was the fox singing. He was very yellow and bright, like corn. She went nearer to him, but he ran away and ceased singing. He seemed near, and she wanted to touch him. She stretched out her hand, but suddenly he bit her wrist, and at the same instant, as she drew back, the fox, turning round to bound away, whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed his brush was on fire, for it seared and burned her mouth with a great pain. She awoke with the pain of it, and lay trembling as if she were really seared.
Banford, the sensitive one, dies when Henry deliberately fells a tree her way, and Henry and March marry and are to be unhappy and embattled forever after.
And now, in Lawrence’s work, what of his extraordi- nary characters? Are they real, recognizable, neat men and women? Would you know them if you saw them? Not even, I think, if they began to speak on the street as they speak in his stories, in the very words—they would appear as deranged people. And for this there is the most reliable of reasons: Lawrence’s characters don’t really speak their words, and they’re not walking about on the street. They are playing like fountains or radiating like the moon or storming like the sea, or their silence is the silence of wicked rocks. It is borne home to us that Lawrence is writing of human relationships on earth in terms of his own heaven and hell, and on these terms plot and characters are alike sacrificed to something: that which Lawrence passionately believes to transcend both and which is known and found directly through the senses. It is the world of the senses that Lawrence writes in. He almost literally writes from within it. He is first wonderful at making a story world, a place, and then wonderful again when he inhabits it with six characters, the five senses and sex. And the plot is by necessity a symbolic one. We know straight from the start in “The Fox” that every point in the story is to be made subjectively. “He knew her. And she knew he knew her.” And we know she knew he knew her: this by his almost super-normal appeal to, and approach by way of, what can be seen, felt and heard. What has made this story strange is also what empowers us to understand it. It is hypnotic. Human relationships in his stories are made forces so strong that what they are (and what you and I should perhaps find indescribable) is simply, when we read him, accepted without question.
It is characteristic of Lawrence that in describing the relationship between the two women, March and Banford, which is outwardly unconventional, he is stating perfectly clearly within his story’s terms the conventional separation at work in the two halves of the personality—the conscious and the unconscious, or the will and the passive susceptibility, what is “ready” and what is submerged. March and Banford may well be the two halves of one woman, of woman herself in the presence of the male will. Lawrence prosecutes his case with the persistence of a lawyer, with the mowing down of any dissent that the prophet is allowed to practice. But what moves, convinces, persuades us, all the same, is, so to speak, the odor of the fox—for the senses, the poetic world that lies far deeper than these shafts of argument or preaching really go, work Lawrence’s spell.
For Virginia Woolf in her stories the senses mattered extremely, as we know; toward sex she was a critic. But the beauty and the innovation of her writing are both due to the fact, it seems to this reader, that the imprisonment of life in the word was with her a concern of the intellect as much as it was with the senses. She uses her senses intellectually, while Lawrence, if this is not too easy to say, uses his intellect sensually. While Chekhov patiently builds up character, Lawrence furiously breaks down character. It doesn’t need fiction writers to tell us that opposite things are very often done in getting at the truth. But it was Lawrence who was like the True Princess, who felt that beneath forty featherbeds there was a pea. Lawrence was as sensitive to falsity as the True Princess was to the pea, and he was just as sure to proclaim the injury. He quarrels with us terribly, of course, because it matters to him, in getting his story to the way he wants it, to quarrel.
Those who write with cruelty, and Lawrence is one, may not be lacking in compassion but stand in need to write in exorcisement. Chekhov was exorcising nothing, he simply showed it forth. He does not perhaps put his own feelings above life. Lawrence in his stories protests the world, and at the same time he gives the world an almost unbearable wonder and beauty.
His stories may at times remind you of some kind of tropical birds, that are in structure all but awkward—for what is symbolic has a very hard time if it must be at all on the ground; but then when they take wing, as they do, the miracle occurs. For Lawrence is an artist: his birds fly. Outrageousness itself is put to use, along with all that is felicitous. The bird in its flight is in superb command, our eyes are almost put out by iridescence. The phoenix really was his bird.
So much for “The Fox.” “The Bear” begins:
There was a man and a dog too this time. Two beasts, counting Old Ben the bear, and two men, counting Boon Hogganbeck, in whom some of the same blood ran which ran in Sam Fathers, even though Boon’s was a plebeian strain of it and in only Sam and Old Ben and the mongrel Lion was taintless and incorruptible.
And we’re in a different world. There is a world outside, which we’re expected to be acquainted with in its several stratifications, to which our inner world communicates and to which it answers. The blood in this story may not be conscious or unconscious, but it can be tainted—that is, it can be considered in its relation to action, to opinion, to life going on outside. Blood can be plebeian, mongrel, taintless, incorruptible in one sentence of William Faulkner’s, whereas in all of Lawrence it is one thing, the abode of the unconscious.
You will remember that this is a hunting story. A boy has known always of a great bear in the hunting country he was born into; encounters the bear after his initiation into the wilderness, and does not kill him; but at last, years later, with a beast that is trained to be his match (the mongrel, Lion), the fatal encounter takes place, and bear, dog and old pure-blooded Indian all die of it.
We see at once as we read that this narrative has the quality of happening, and the blood of inheriting; the story indeed has signs of having so much to do with the outer world that it can happen, and has happened, more than once. In one respect, this story is a sample of that happening which is continuous, indigenous to the time and the place and the human element in and through which it happens.
Ike McCaslin, in whose experience at various stages we are told the story, realized later that it had begun long before that. It had already begun on that day when he first wrote his age in two ciphers and his cousin McCaslin brought him for the first time to the camp, the big woods, to earn for himself from the wilderness the name and state of hunter provided he in his turn were humble and enduring enough.
Humble and enduring—qualities that apply to our relationship with the world.
He had already inherited then, without ever having seen it, the big old bear with one trap-ruined foot that in an area of almost a hundred square miles had earned for himself a name, a definite designation like a living man—the long legend of corncribs broken down and rifled, of shoats and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured, and traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain, and shotgun and even rifle shots delivered at pointblank range yet with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a child—a corridor of wreckage and destruction beginning back before the boy was born, through which sped, not fast but rather with the ruthless and irresistible deliberation of a locomotive, the shaggy tremendous shape. It ran in his knowledge before he ever saw it. It loomed and towered in his dreams before he ever saw the unaxed woods where it left its crooked print, shaggy, tremendous, red-eyed, not malevolent but just big, too big for the dogs which tried to bay it, for the horses which tried to ride it, for the men and the bullets they fired into it; too big for the very country which was its constricting scope.
See the outer edges of this bear becoming abstract—but this bear is not the fox. “It was as if the boy had already divined what his senses and intellect had not encompassed yet . . .”
For this bear belongs to the world, the world of experience: that doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with plows and axes who feared it because it was wilderness, men myriad and nameless even to one another in the land where the old bear earned a name, and through which ran not even a mortal beast but an anachronism indomitable and invincible out of an old, dead time, a phantom, epitome and apotheosis of the old, wild life which the little puny humans swarmed and hacked at in a fury of abhorrence and fear, like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant;—the old bear, solitary, indomitable, and alone; widowered, childless, and absolved of mortality—old Priam, reft of his old wife, and outliving all his sons.
From the Hardcover edition.
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