‘How Beautiful With Shoes’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele

steele, wilbur 1931

How Beautiful With Shoes by Wilbur Daniel Steele, 1932

The magic trick:

Balancing Amarantha’s reaction to her kidnapping between terror and enthrallment

Amarantha is terrified by Humble Jewett. That part makes sense. He is, after all, a murderous madman escaped from the local asylum. But it’s the excitement and interest she shows at various points, in spite of the danger, that truly surprise, and it is in these feelings that Steele makes his mark with the story.

Humble Jewett represents passion – fire and blood, as Steele describes it during the pair’s first meeting. Passion can be overwhelming and terrifying, but likewise it is alluring and addictive. Amarantha never tasted passion before her encounter with Jewett and it seems to reset her entire worldview.

When she sees the literal fire and blood of the church fire later in the story, she is shocked and scared of the danger but takes a few extra moments to watch. She can’t look away. She has been taken in by the fire – the passion. By the end, she’s not relieved to be safe at home; she’s mourning the return of the safe existence among the drudgery of the farm. And that’s quite a trick on Steele’s part.

The selection:

She stood stock-still. Her mother’s voice was to be heard in the distance, strident and meaningless. More cars were on the road. Nearer, around the rock, there were sounds of tramping and thrashing. Ruby fussed and cursed. He shouted, “Mare, dang you, where are you, Mare?” his voice harsh with uneasy anger. Now, if she aimed to do anything, was the time to do it. But there was neither breath nor power in her windpipe. It was as if those yearning fingers had paralyzed the muscles.

3 thoughts on “‘How Beautiful With Shoes’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele

  1. Her name was Mary, not Amarantha. He called her Amarantha when he recited Lovelace’s poem about “Amarantha sweet and fair braid no more that golden hair….” Mary was awakened to a life of poetry and beauty thanks to Jewett; returning to that phlegmatic farm life with her boyfriend who was “used to running his hands over the farm animals” was suddenly not enough for Mary. I fell in love with this story well over 50 years ago in college and have never forgotten it.

    • “Amarantha, why don’t you answer me, Amarantha? ”

      For moments after the girl had disappeared beyond the willows the widow continued to call, unaware through long habit of how absurd it sounded, the name which that strange man her husband had put upon their daughter in one of his moods. Mrs. Doggett had been deaf so long she did not realize that nobody else ever thought of it for the broad-fleshed, slow-minded girl, but called her Mary, or, even more simply, Mare.

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