The Gift by John Steinbeck, 1933
The magic trick:
Artistic use of foreshadowing
I’m glad to be able to wish you, good readers, a Happy Thanksgiving for a third time here on the SSMT blog. Today’s story isn’t about the holiday, but its plot pivots on Thanksgiving and it’s a wonderful, wonderful story, so why not?
You probably know all about Chekhov’s Gun principle. If you introduce a gun in the first act, it damn well better be fired by the third. Or something like that. Well, here we have a very good example of it put to action in “The Gift.”
First, we get a very dire comment on the buzzards Jody encounters on a walk. Nothing too dramatic, but it definitely casts an ominous tone. Then, we learn that Jody has received a rifle from his father but must wait two years before he can use cartridges. “Nearly all of his father’s presents,” Steinbeck writes, “were given with reservations which hampered their value somewhat.” Gifts, we’re now thinking from the story’s early moments, are complicated things in this world.
Foreshadowing, of course, is great, but I find it can often be a little too on-the-nose, a little too staged. “The Gift” foreshadows with tone and ideas, making it all a little less obvious and all the more effective. And that’s quite a trick on Steinbeck’s part.
Over the hillside two big black buzzards sailed low to the ground and their shadows slipped smoothly and quickly ahead of them. Some animal had died in the vicinity. Jody knew it. It might be a cow or it might be the remains of a rabbit. The buzzards overlooked nothing. Jody hated them as all decent things hate them, but they could not be hurt because they made away with carrion.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.