Jim Was Super Convincing

Summary Part 1: Michael

As Stephen King’s “A Death” begins, we meet the protagonist, Jim Trusdale. He is sitting on his porch where he reading a paper before being accosted and arrested. Sheriff Barclay along with some deputized townsmen approached Jim due to the murder of a young girl from town, Rebecca Cline. After detainment, he is placed in the back of a mortuary van. His home is searched thoroughly along with Sheriff Barclay personally sifting through his oven ashes looking for a silver dollar which was stolen from Rebecca. As he is taken to the town jail for holding awaiting his trial, he is heckled by the townspeople. Upon arrival at the town holding cell he is stripped, groped and violated by Sheriff Barclay. The townspeople request for him to be hung that day however he has the right to a trial and therefore his death is postponed.

Summary Part 2: Ben

After being stripped and searched, Jim Trusdale is asked buy Sherriff Barclay about why he killed Rebecca Cline, which Jim, again, denies doing. He’s then forced to live in prison, where people come to harass him about Rebecca Clines murder. When it’s found out that there’s no one in town to see to his legal defense, a business owner named George Andrews was assigned to him for his trial. The trial was swift and biased, all the jury and even the judge (which was the prosecution) was against him. When Jim began to recount the story, Abel Hines, a townsperson had an outburst that caused him to be expelled from the court room. And when Jim’s testimony was done, Barclay was on Jim’s side.

In the ending of Stephen King’s “A Death,” we start off with the trial of Jim Trusdale, a man accused of killing a little girl named Rebecca Cline. Jim’s hat was found underneath Rebecca’s dress after she was strangled to death, and most of the townsfolk automatically believe that Trusdale was accountable for this. Trusdale had been at a nearby bar, “The Chuck-a-Luck”, right before Rebecca’s death, which gives him both an alibi and an “inability” to remember what happened. Mr. Trusdale refuses all of the accusations, and everyone in the stands votes against him. Rebecca’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cline, call Trusdale a “lying son of a bitch” and the trail aggressively continues like this for quite some time. Sheriff Barclay, the main authority of this story, begins to believe Trusdale because of the lack of evidence that they have. Before Rebecca was killed, it was her birthday and her mother had given her a silver dollar to go buy candy and visit the apothecary down the street.  Because they cannot find this evidence, Barclay begins to believe that Trusdale is innocent–but it is already too late. Trusdale is accused guilty and is scheduled to be hung soon.

In the next scene, Barclay serves Trudale his last meal, “steak and eggs, with home fries on the side soaked in gravy.” When Barclay comes back later to check on him, he finds Jim crying, saying that he will go to the grave with steak and eggs still in his belly. This is an eye-opening concept for Barclay, since he is still convinced that Trusdale could be innocent, yet he is incapable of doing anything about it. Barclay tries to jog his memory to try and think back to where he left his hat, or if anyone might have taken it by accident and framed him for the murder. When that fails, Barclay leaves Trusdale in his cell alone, where he continues to contemplate the possibilities of Trusdale’s case and its justifiability.

Summary Part 3: Ella

The next morning, Trusdale is marched up to the gallows, kicking and screaming, pleading his decency the whole way. He still sticks to his original claim, saying he doesn’t know who Rebecca Cline even is, and that he certainly never killed her. Moments later, his last plea is to see the mountains one last time, but the Pastor refuses and hangs him without another word. People in the crowd are cheering, finally feeling the slightest ounce of justice has been done in Rebecca’s name.

The story ends with Barclay being summoned by Abel Hines, the owner of  Hines Funeral Parlor and Mortuary to see Trusdale’s body. It is revealed that when someone is hung, they soil their pants because a reflex in the body stops working. In Trusdale’s pile of feces, they find Rebecca Cline’s silver dollar, which shows that Trusdale actually wasn’t innocent after all, and had Barclay fooled the majority of the story.

Chronic Tension: The Murder of Rebecca Cline.

Acute Tension: Jim being accused of the murder

Analysis Part 1: Michael

Time & Place

This story takes place in the small town of Spearfish, South Dakota. During the late 19th century after June 8, 1876  yet prior to  November 2, 1889. It takes place during the month of November. The “Black Hills Pioneer” is a newspaper local to the town of Spearfish which was established on June 8, 1876. The frequent mentioning of lanterns along with horseback riding also enforces this time period which it was written in. The brown plainsman is a somewhat classic looking cowboy hat and it is the model which Jim Trusdale wore. November is often mentioned and Jim shivers when he is strip searched.  The Nevada silver rush is mentioned, which began in 1858.

“And although we are not one of the United States just yet, we will be soon.”

Nevada became a state of the United States of America on November 2, 1889.

Characterization

Jim Trusdale

Jim Trusdale was a small man of little education who seemed to lack common sense. He is very poor and I assume he is an alcoholic due to his spending of the remainder of his money on booze. He believes in good luck and bad luck due to not wanting to ride in a funeral wagon and because of his his lucky marble. He is very naive yet his words seem sincere due to his lack of common sense. He is extremely scared of death and it is revealed at the end of the story that he has a silver dollar meaning he did in fact murder Rebecca Cline.

Sheriff Otis Barclay

Sheriff Barclay is upright and righteous. He is a true man of the law and he puts the justice over his personal feelings. He is devoted this is displayed throughout the story numerous times, from him sifted through stove ashes and checking Jim’s anus for the coin, he never gave up on finding the truth. He beilievd Jim was innocent when no one else did and he bought Jim his last meal because of it.He questions why they never found the silver dollar and made sure Jim got a trial.

Steven King’s “A Death”  discussion questions

1: What does Sherrif Barclay’s payment of Jim’s last meal reveal about him?

2: Do you think Jim murdered Rebecca Cline? If so…why?

3: If you were one of Rebecca’s parents would you mind having to wait for Jim to be murdered?

Analysis Part 2: Ben

After being stripped and searched, Jim Trusdale is asked buy Sherriff Barclay about why he killed Rebecca Cline, which Jim, again, denies doing. He’s then forced to live in prison, where people come to harass him about Rebecca Clines murder. When it’s found out that there’s no one in town to see to his legal defense, a business owner named George Andrews was assigned to him for his trial. The trial was swift and biased, all the jury and even the judge (which was the prosecution) was against him. When Jim began to recount the story, Abel Hines, a townsperson had an outburst that caused him to be expelled from the court room. And when Jim’s testimony was done, Barclay was on Jim’s side.

My craft elements were epiphany and narrative structure. Epiphany, being a moment of great clarity for characters in the story, and narrative structure being points in the story where the plot moved forwards, or ways that the author meticulously wrote events in the story

The author’s seamless incorporation into the characters of “A Death” was impressive to read. One example of that author’s use is:

‘Did he at any point take off the hat? Perhaps hang it on one of the hooks by the door?’ No one could remember.

‘Only I never seen him without it,’ Dale Gerard, the barman, said. ‘He was partial to that hat. If he did take it off, he probably laid it on the bar beside him. He had his second drink, and then he went on his way.’

This, among other bits from Jim’s trial, is what ultimately led the sheriff to believe Jim’s story. When no one could point out any evidence about Jim lying about his hat, it opened the possibility, for Barclay, that Jim was telling the truth. Stephen King wrote credibility to Jim, through his stupid but well-meaning demeanor, and the fact that Jim has not lied about a single event up to now, made the reader feel sympathy for Jim’s situation, as well as Barclay. Barclay’s epiphany comes here:

‘I ain’t lying,’ Trusdale said, and that was when Sheriff Barclay believed him.

The Sheriff, up until now, has been convinced that Jim was lying. But, truth after truth, unfair treatment after treatment for Jim, and the Barclay’s sense of morality and deductive reasoning gave him an epiphany. His sense of justice told him that Jim was not lying. The author was very clear in his writing of Sheriff Barclay, a good man who just wants justice to prevail. When he sees Jim’s stories and pleas are not fiction, he has the epiphany that any good person would have, Jim’s innocence.

Stephen King also presented this realization rather masterfully. We, as the reader, gain sympathy for Jim every time someone yells at him or slanders his name.  When he says,

‘Ma’am,’ Trusdale said, standing on the bunk so that he could look down at her upturned face. ‘I didn’t kill your baby nor no one.

We believe him because he’s written, in dialogue, to genuinely not know what’s going on, or why these accusations are being pointed at him. Every extra detail written into his character reinforces his general ignorance, mental illness running in the family, his father’s reputation, his obsession with his hat, all point to Jim’s ignorance of the situation and therefore, innocence.

The Narrative structure of this story was also well defined. Its general pace was very good, I had no trouble recognizing events in the story when they unfolded. There are a few points where the narrative structure added to events in the story, here’s one:

The trial lasted through one November morning and halfway into the afternoon. It was held in the municipal hall, and on that day there were snow flurries as fine as wedding lace. Slate-gray clouds rolling toward town threatened a bigger storm. Roger Mizell, who had familiarized himself with the case, served as prosecuting attorney as well as judge.

This particular piece of structure was exposition, and it did not slow the pace of the story unnecessarily. It told us what we needed to know for the upcoming scene of the trail and didn’t waste time with superficial details where it wasn’t needed. It progressed the plot to bring us to the scene of the courtroom. We also learn that Roger Mizell is the prosecution as well as the judge. That sets up the expectation that this trail will be as biased as it could possibly be, even the judge is out to get Jim. We got a lot from this paragraph, and it doesn’t waste our time. Another example of good narrative structure is as follows:

‘Did you order two drinks?’

’Yes, sir, I did. Two was all I had money for.’

‘But you got another dollar right quick, didn’t you, you hound!’ Abel Hines shouted.

Mizell pointed his gavel first at Hines, then at Sheriff Barclay, sitting in the front row. ‘Sheriff, escort that man out and charge him with disorderly conduct, if you please.’

Barclay escorted Hines out but did not charge him with disorderly conduct. Instead, he asked what had got into him.

This scene was not exposition, it was an action scene, but we still got a decent amount of characterization and action without our time being wasted. First, we see a small exchange between the judge, Him, and Abel. It’s short, but we get characterization of all three. Abel is very heated by Jim, who he feels is a monster, so much so that he breaks the rules and yells during a trial. The judge, Mizell, just wants to get the trial done with and keep order. And Jim, who is answering to the best of his ability and generally doesn’t want to be convicted. The whole short story tells us what we need to know, adds a little bit extra for Jim’s personal life, doesn’t get too fast or too slow with its pace, and doesn’t waste our time.

I thought the author’s execution of Narrative Structure and Epiphany were used to great effect in “A Death.” Epiphany is a very underrated element to a story, not every story has a major twist or realization, and some authors choose to leave it in the dust. But, in this story, we are shown time after time, harassment after harassment, the evidence for Jim piles up. At the trial’s end, we are just as sympathetic to Jim as Barclay and have the same epiphany during the trial. Jim’s innocence, regardless of what the town thinks. I grew attached to the sheriff and Jim through the events leading up to the epiphany, and I would do well to mimic Stephen King’s use of Epiphany.

Narrative Structure was, as explained before, exceptional in its pace and execution. (Though this analysis is of the middle part of the story,) we get exposition at the beginning and the rising action, then the climax, then the short falling action, then the resolution. Standard structure but done very well. There is no useless detail that distracts from the plot, everything said adds to the atmosphere and narrative. There is a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, who the characters are and their motivations, and a solid narrative. While it wasn’t particularly innovative, the organization of the plot was simple and very well done. It’s admirable how great of a story that the structure enabled it to be, and I should try to emulate it it my own writing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did the author portray Jim’s conflict in the story?
  2. How did the the town going through a harsh winter symbolize the conflict?

 

Analysis Part 3: Ella

In “A Death,” I took away a lot of useful writing techniques that I hope to use in the future. The main ones that I found especially captivating were those that involved dialogue. The way that King uses speech in his writing is very distinct and realistic, and I could hear the characters speaking in my head vividly. The characters in “A Death” all has a distinguishable voice, many of them having accents (in my personal experience).

“Come out of there, Jim, and do it with your hands up. I ain’t drawn my pistol and don’t want to.”

Not only did King do a great job with his dialogue, but he also had great visuals and settings. Because my craft elements included setting, I began to notice that his backgrounds would constantly shift. Some of them had such smooth transitions that, at times, it was difficult to highlight where the characters were at that moment.

“…You have three choices, gentlemen—innocent, manslaughter, or murder in the first degree.”

“Girlslaughter, more like it,” someone remarked.

Sheriff Barclay and Dave Fisher retired to the Chuck-a-Luck.

In addition to these things, I believe that King’s work is very thorough, and did an excellent job keeping the mystery fresh until the very end. I was very surprised by the ending, because I too believed that Trusdale was innocent.

Something gleamed in the mess. Barclay leaned closer and saw it was a silver dollar. He reached down and plucked it from the crap.

I enjoyed the way that I was interested with the story until the end, because it is both a hard device to pull off  and an important aspect when keeping the reader engaged.

Lastly, Stephen King’s work is overall compelling, suspenseful, and very entertaining to read. I hope that after reading some of his work, I am able to use this advice when it comes to writing my own stories, such as the improvement of dialogue and the authenticity of my settings and details.

On another note, my discussion questions! My first one is “Do you think that the ending was predictable/ were there any hints that Jim Trusdale actually killed Rebecca?” My second question is “ Do you think Jim’s plea as guilty was really worth it? If he ended up getting hanged either way, then was his scheme really worth all the trouble?”

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