Spofford: Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife, The Indian Devil is Coming

Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance” tells the tale of a woman walking through nature who is then attacked by a vicious and unnamed animal. The “Indian Devil” as the beast is called connotes a sense of something that is native to the land just as the Indians were. The “devil” shows a deep-seated fear and betrays the settlers fear of nature. The legendary aspect of the creature shows the settlers do not understand nature and resort to myths to explain alien concepts of their new land. At first, the narrator is peacefully walking through the fields near her home. She witnesses a strange apparition flying through the sky covered in a white sheet with four hands, delivering a warning. In reaction to this “She might have been a little frightened by such an apparition, if she had led a life of less reality than frontier settlers are apt to lead” (Spofford, 85).  It is clear she and her family have gone through many struggles in order to make a life for themselves on the frontier. It is mentioned several times throughout the work that she lived in a log home, her husband plays a “homely fiddle made by himself from birch and cherrywood,” and the “patter of wooden clogs and the rustle of homespun petticoat” (Spofford, 87).  The author is making is obvious to the reader that the narrator and her husband live off the land and are harmonious with nature. She walks through “the little copse” and lingers to “imbibe the sense of shelter” (Spofford, 84). There is a very positive relationship created between the narrator and nature, and she speaks of it as a warm and comforting friend and place of peace. After she is attacked by the animal this relationship shifts, “The green depths were utterly cold and silent and stern. These beautiful haunts that all the summer were hears and rejoinced to share with her their bounty, these heavens that had yielded their largess, these stems that had thrust their blossoms into her hands, all these friends of three moons ago forgot her now and knew her no longer” (Spofford, 89). This quote communicates the utter feeling of betrayal the narrator experiences. She once thought of the self-same woods as a safe haven and a source to live off of. I think the creature is a representation of warning to the couple to not underestimate nature. The wife had a false sense of security within nature and had no qualms of using it to her advantage, to make a home, clogs, fiddle, etc. The creature first attacks the woman because she was more emotionally attached to the land and therefore more vulnerable. It is significant that her singing keeps the beast from eating her because singing is soothing and non-violent and demonstrates how if we are kind to the forest and treat it gently it will not eventually come to betray us. The husband, however, demonstrates how people are attempting to conquer and dominate nature. He does not attempt any pacifying tactics and opts to violently bludgeon the beast instead. His actions are indicative of the settlers as a whole, destroying nature instead of finding ways to co-exist peacefully.

Spofford, Harriet Prescott. The Amber Gods and Other Stories. Ch./Art: Circumstance p. 84-96. pub. Rutgers University Press 1989

2 responses to this post.

  1. This may be the best title ever!

  2. Although I also found your blog post interesting, I have to say that my favorite part was your title. Though seriously I liked the approach you took to looking at the story, I myself had not seen this sort of didactic undertone where Spofford is showing us the difference between the right way to live in nature, and the way of the civilized man that just takes takes and takes.

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