The Stone Boy

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Getting ready for bed that night, Arnold fears both the darkness and the light.

Is night when you get afraid? With this condemnation, she turns him away from the possibility of redemption he seeks in her arms. She did not know it yet, nobody knew it, and yet she was sitting up in bed, waiting to be told. He had expected her to tell him to come in and allow him to dig his head into her blankets and tell her about the terror he had felt when he had knelt beside his brother.

He had come to clasp her in his arms and pommel her breasts with his head, grieving with her for Eugene. It appears to me that all the terrors are countered by a perceptible degree by the attempts of some writers to make us known to one another and thus to impart or revive a reverence for life. The Stone Boy is immediately riveting in its subject matter. Nine-year-old Arnold, while passing through a wire fence, catches his gun.

It discharges, and a bullet lodges in the neck of his older brother, Eugie. Eugie dies.


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For Arnold does not immediately return to his family and tell them what happened; instead, he continues with the task he set out to do that morning: picking peas. They do not know how to view Arnold so they cling to the sheriff's assessment of Arnold. By the next day, Arnold, too, comes to accept this opinion of himself, and in one heartfelt moment, transforms himself into such a being.

While The Stone Boy does not employ intricate narrative devices, it nevertheless presents a full, compelling story. This story invites even the casual reader to speculate as to its whys and wherefores. When Eugie does not get up, Arnold commences picking peas. He picked up the tub and, dragging it behind him, walked along by the willows to the garden fence and climbed through.

He went down on his knees among the tangled vines. Indeed, the story provides substantiation for both a reading of Arnold as murderer and Arnold as accidental killer. At the same time, however, Arnold cares for and idealizes his brother. For some undisclosed reason, the sheriff offers no other explanation.

Arnold internalizes these opinions, particularly because the criticism comes from Uncle Andy, whose power over Arnold derives from his close resemblance to Eugie. By the end of the evening, Arnold is almost completely undone. His state of undress symbolizes his feeling that his family and his community have seen through his skin, into the hidden recesses of his heart.

The Stone Boy and Other Stories

The next morning, however, Arnold almost grasps a chance at rehabilitation. Many possible answers can be posed, but as with other questions the story raises, perhaps no answer seems satisfactory.

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Arnold may have come to accept his new role in the course of one night, or he may be so angry at his parents for allowing him to be unfairly cast that he wants to punish them by withholding himself. Because Eugie valued his place as the eldest child, so did Arnold. Now Arnold has become the eldest boy, and he feels he must fulfill the tasks that thus befall him.

This explanation may help clarify why Arnold picked peas while Eugie lay dead—because that was the task he and Eugie had set out to fulfill. Although so much of The Stone Boy is ambiguous and cannot be fully understood, what is clear is that by the end of the story, Arnold has undergone a complete transformation. The reader is left with little doubt that the sheriff's dreadful prophecy of seeing Arnold again in the future is likely to come true. Madsen Hardy has a doctorate in English literature and is a freelance writer and editor.

In a story composed mostly of realistic exposition, this title stands out as a striking metaphor. Stone is cold and inert. It is associated with cruelty and also with death, both of which are states of unfeeling. Berriault uses both precise, unadorned description and lyrical similes to represent almost paradoxically—what it feels like to be unable to feel. Among the latter, particularly significant are the similes that Berriault uses to invest the inanimate land and atmosphere of the farm with sentience.

Personification is a form of metaphor in which an inanimate object is endowed with the qualities of a living being.

Themes - The Stone Boy

Berriault uses similes to the same effect. Through the title, Berriault compares Arnold to an inanimate object, but through her similes, she gives inanimate objects human qualities, drawing a connection between feeling and its absence. Arnold experiences a range of typical emotions in regard to his older brother Eugie, from resentment and envy to admiration.

The boys get up early to fulfill their responsibility to pick peas in the cool of the morning. When he tries to free it, it fires in the direction of his brother, who has just gone through the fence ahead of him. Berriault narrates the terrible events in direct, realistic language.

The air was rocked by the sound of the shot. Feeling foolish, he lifted his face, baring it to an expected shower of derision from his brother. But Eugie did not turn around. Instead, from his crouching position, he fell to his knees and then pitched forward onto his face. When he sees that Eugie has been hit, he is completely surprised. They treat him as if he were an object rather than a subject, a rock rather than a person.

The Stone Boy

Undeniably, Arnold is emotionally numb. Indeed, Arnold regards himself as no longer human, acting only in order to maintain the family routine and reduce his conspicuousness, and making no attempt at contact with the people around him. Because Arnold becomes so detached from the innermost parts of himself, the narrational position may seem to offer readers little more than an objective account of events over the course of twenty-four hours following the shooting.


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Berriault delicately offsets the flat, reasonable narration of the events of the day with striking figurative descriptions of the natural world. She uses lyrical language to define a view of the inanimate realm of nature as conscious and perceptive. The best writers employ figurative language such as metaphors and similes not just to make their writing sound beautiful or interesting, but to emphasize their ideas and add dimension to their characters. Berriault uses personification and simile to create a sense of empathy between Arnold and the farmland around him.

In death Eugie becomes part of the inanimate natural world, separate from human forms of communication. Hereafter, he is detached from his family, his community, and what he had always taken for granted as himself, a boy defined against the towering figure of his older brother. The sun reaches out and touches him, something that no one else does over the course of the harrowing day. From this point forward, Arnold too enters a non-human realm. Lacking any other way to understand his state of shock, Arnold has accepted the literal-minded explanation offered by the sheriff and repeated by the others.

He imagines that the house and the fields have feeling—not a feeling that is comparable to the range of emotions he and those close to him have ever experienced, but feeling nonetheless. By all appearances Arnold does not feel sorry, his own loss or the loss that he has inflicted on his family, but he does feel for the world of objects of which he and Eugie, each in his way, are both now a part.

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As the story ends, Arnold still feels like stone. His mother has rejected his bid for comfort, and he has in turn denied this bid. Verbal communication remains on both sides reasonable and cruel. But the careful reader sees the difference between what Arnold says and who he is, between his flat demeanor and the vast depth of his loss.

Amdahl, Gary. Berriault, Gina. Boken, Julia B. Kostelanetz, Richard. Leach, Penelope.

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Lyons, Bonnie, and Bill Oliver.

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