‘Nest Egg’ by Jesse Stuart


Nest Egg by Jesse Stuart, 1944

The magic trick:

Telling a story simply with no tangents or heavy-handed symbolism

Stuart, in an author’s intro to this story, claims to have first written this story as a high school class theme assignment. It’s a remarkable boast, and one can imagine the teacher’s surprise when reading a text that 20 years later would be good enough to publish in the Atlantic tucked among the stacks of sophomore English papers.

And of course maybe he’s exaggerating. But I think it’s believable. Not only is Stuart such a fine writer that it’s not impossible to suppose he was already operating at a high level as a teenager, but “Nest Egg” has enough innocent charm to be the work of a very young writer.

This story doesn’t mess around. The narrator tells the story from beginning to end. There aren’t any showy tangents into symbolism. There isn’t any self-conscious attempts at driving home a special meaning. It’s just a story about a rooster and a boy and a farm.

And that’s quite a trick on Stuart’s part.

The selection:

Nest Egg wasn’t six months old when he started crowin’. Now he was much larger than his mother. He was tall and he had big legs and little straight spurs that looked like long locust thorns. His mother still ran with him and clucked to him, but he didn’t pay his mother much attention. He would often stand lookin’ at the spring sun and never bat his eyes. He had a mean-lookin’ eye and a long crooked bill that looked like a chicken hawk’s bill. He didn’t look like his mother. Pa said that he was a cross between a Sebright and a black game. He had almost every variety of colors. I thought he was a mongrel rooster – a mixture of many breeds.

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