‘Wild Frank’s Return’ by Walt Whitman

Wild Frank’s Return by Walt Whitman, 1841

The magic trick:

Giving Frank his comeuppance in a beautiful bit of writing

I assumed that these early Walt Whitman stories were lightweight. He went on to greatness in poetry, not the short story form, and surely, I thought, these are only in print because of the fame he would acquire later in life.

And that last part may be right. They probably wouldn’t be in print today if they were the best things he ever did. But to call them lightweight is foolish. This is a powerful story.

As the plot gets moving, the reader senses that it’s a redemption tale. But that reader’s instinct is misleading. Wild Frank pays for the sins of his youth, and he does so in a shocking, beautiful way. The writing really is excellent. This Whitman kid should keep at it. And that’s quite a trick on Whitman’s part.

The selection:

“But you must be very tired, Frank,” rejoin’d the other; “won’t you let some of us harness up and carry you? Or if you like – ” he stopp’d a moment, and a trifling suffusion spread over his face; “if you like, I’ll put the saddle on Black Nell – she’s here at my place now, and you can ride home like a lord.”

Frank’s face color’d a little, too. He paused for a moment in thought – he was really foot-sore, and exhausted with his journey that hot day – so he accepted his brother’s offer.

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