The Cowboy’s Unknowing

A presentation on Stephen King’s “A Death” by Sebastian Kiteka, Gabriela Mejia, and Isabella Jimenez

Summary Part 1: Sebastian

In the beginning of the story, page one says, “Jim Trusdale had a shack on the west side of his father’s gone-to-seed ranch, and that was where he was when Sheriff Barclay and half a dozen deputized townsmen found him,”. This is where Trusdale is confronted and thought to have been the murderer in the story. Throughout the story the question “Where is your hat, Jim?” is mentioned, and Trusdale says back things like I don’t know but on this page (1) he answers, “‘I might have lost it.’” This is his common excuse, but later on in the story it is revealed it is near the dead girl he has killed. King states that the men had gone to town. There intention was to search and jail Trusdale for the time until he went to court. On page 3 it says,“They went to town. It was four miles. Trusdale rode in the back of the mortuary wagon, shivering against the cold. Without turning around, the man holding the reins said, ‘Did you rape her as well as steal her dollar, you hound?’”. This explains why Trusdale is being jailed, and they believe it is him who has killed and possibly raped her because of the evidence of Trusdale’s hat. The townspeople are obviously angered at Trusdale who they think (and know) is the killer of a 10-year old girl. This is mentioned on page 4, “‘Hang that baby killer!’ a man shouted, and someone threw a rock. It flew past Trusdale’s head and clattered on the board sidewalk.” This man has most likely heard the news and I would infer that all of the townspeople think that Trusdale is the murderer. Trusdale is also searched for the silver dollar on page 5, “Trusdale turned, grabbed his buttocks, and pulled them apart. Sheriff Barclay winced, sighed, and poked a finger into Trusdale’s anus. Trusdale groaned. Barclay removed his finger, wincing again at the soft pop, and wiped his finger on Trusdale’s undershirt.” Though it is disgusting for both, Sheriff Barclay wants to find justice in the Rebecca Cline case and he is willing to do it at any cost. On the same page, 5, the sheriff arrests Trusdale and locks him up in a cell,  “‘I’m arresting you for the murder of Rebecca Cline.’” The 5th page ends with Sheriff Barclay saying, “‘I feel sorry for you, Jim. Hell ain’t too hot for a man who’d do such a thing.’” and then walking away, leaving Trusdale “questioning” the situation. I interpreted Barclay’s quote as him feeling “sorry” for Trusdale, and there are a lot of criminals in Hell, and it’s willing to add another one.

Summary Part 2: Gabi

Jim Trusdale has been led to jail with mocking accusation of him committing unspeakable crimes. Sheriff Barclay leads him to jail where he then searches every part of Jim for evidence. Time passes with more mocking’s and threats of death. The trial finally arrives where he is prosecuted and judged in process that questions his morality. This section is closed with the meeting hinting at the possibilities of a slow death because of established evidence which involves stealing money and killing a girl.

Summary Part 3: Isabella

The execution has been set for the next day and Sheriff Barclay tells Trusdale he can have anything for his last meal, which leads to a conversation between the both of them to try and help Trusdale remember if he recognized anybody’s face at the bar. Trusdale can’t, and the Sheriff takes his dishes and leaves. The next day, the day the hanging takes place, Trusdale is hysterical and tries to fight back, saying he’ll be good if he can see the mountains one last time. The crowd watching jeers and insults him for being pathetic and horrible even after he is hung. The sheriff goes back to the cell, then his office, until the next morning he is called to the mortuary and sees Trusdale’s underwear on the ground covered in feces, and he and his colleague spot the silver dollar that the little girl had presumably been killed for. The sheriff questions his judgement for thinking the man was innocent and thinks himself a fool for being the only one in the town who believed the murderer.

Analysis Part 1: Sebastian

Character- A figure in a literary work (personality, gender, age, etc). Flat characters are types of caricatures defined by a single idea of quality, whereas round characters have the three-dimensional complexity of real people.

There were many flat characters in the story, “A Death” by Stephan King, including the citizens of the town and Trusdale. The main flat character, Trusdale was shown to be flat, because of his personality never changing. He was confused, “‘What thing?’” meaning that he was unsure of whether he did the crime, and he believed it fullheartally until his death:

Barclay nodded to House. House pulled the lever. The greased beam retracted and the trap dropped. So did Trusdale. There was a crack when his neck broke. His legs drew up almost to his chin, then fell back limp. Yellow drops stained the snow under his feet.

This shows in the ending of Trusdale’s life, and the townspeople are happy he has finally died, which is what they wanted, “The spectators stayed until Trusdale’s corpse, still wearing the black hood, was laid in the same hurry-up wagon he’d ridden to town in. Then they dispersed.” Another quote adding on to the previous is the one on page 14, “Because the Clines knew all along. Everyone in town knew all along. He was the only one who hadn’t known.” The round character in this story is Sheriff Barclay. He is skeptical whether or not Trusdale has committed the crime, unlike his fellow policemen. On page 14,

”You believed him,” Hines said at last.

“Fool that I am, I did.”

“Maybe that says more about you than it does about him.”

This shows that the sheriff was very wrong in believing the murderer to be a freeman, which a fellow sheriff’s deputy tells him.

Plot- The major events that move the action in a narrative. It is the sequence of major events in a story, usually in a cause-effect relation.

The plot in the story is finding out who the girl killer is. Stephan King has convinced his readers that Trusdale is innocent, (along with the Sheriff and the killer himself) yet the town believes (and knows) that Trusdale is the person who should be convicted of being a child murderer. The first major event to the story is taking Trusdale into custody, page 2,

“You need to get in the back of the wagon,” the sheriff said.

This is the beginning to the story. The second major event is searching and convicting Trusdale, page 5,

“Where is it, Jim?”

“My hat?”

“You think I went up your ass looking for your hat? Or through the ashes in your stove? Are you being smart?”

and,

“I’m arresting you for the murder of Rebecca Cline.”

This signifies the only suspect who is at fault for murdering Rebecca Cline. The 3rd major event to the story is the trial of Trusdale, on page 10,

“The jury will retire to consider a verdict. You have three choices, gentlemen—innocent, manslaughter, or murder in the first degree.”

This ends the decision for an execution to Trusdale. The next major event to the story is after Trusdale has died and the men find the silver dollar in Trusdale’s feces. On page 13,

They lay on the floor, mostly turned inside out. Something gleamed in the mess. Barclay leaned closer and saw it was a silver dollar. He reached down and plucked it from the crap.

This indicates when Trusdale has finally been proven guilty.

And the final major event in the story is when the sheriff is looking back on how wrong he really was in thinking that Trusdale was actually innocent. On page 14,

He was the only one who hadn’t known. Fool that he was.

Sheriff Barclay truly feels bad and foolish to believe that Trusdale could’ve actually been innocent instead of guilty.

Discussion questions 1, and 2:

I believe Stephan King used a lot of flat characters because his dynamic, round characters represented the sheriff, and us the readers. Many people thought that Trusdale was actually going to be innocent but instead we were proven wrong as long as the Sheriff. I think the story was a little shorter compared to his longer stories like “It” or “The Shining” because he was going for a shorter, straight to the point kind of story. I like many of his stories, and this story was a pretty horrific story. He did use a little less diction compared to his more spooky or horrid novels, but this story had its own vibe, and was very scary, because we thought Trusdale was innocent, and the way he died, and other factors like that were involved. I believed he did this because when he used more diction it was because of the vile things happening in the story.

Analysis Part 2: Gabi

Point of view: The story “A Death” by Stephen King is written in 3rd person point of view. 3rd person point of view is when the narrator is telling us what is going on in the story. The story shows more of an omniscient 3rd person point of view which is when the narrator knows or has the knowledge of all the feelings or desires of the characters in the book. “A Death” by Stephen King falls under these guidelines because it never mentions the main character referencing throughout the story as if he was telling it. The reader is considered as a spectator and is only filled in with information that the narrator delivers it to us, even though he knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters it does not mean that the narrator has to expose all of them. We can prove this hypothesis with a quote from the beginning of the story stating

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Trusdale said.

This shows the reader the main character Jim is feeling confused, but we don’t have more information to conclude anything else about his feelings. This proves the story is written in a 3rd person omniscient point of view because the narrator is informing us with textual evidence that shows emotions and story plot but not the eternity of the picture.

Style: The story “A Death” by Stephen King is written in a horror/realistic style. When referring to style in a book or novel it means the specific way an author uses diction, use of vocabulary, figurative language and words to immerse the reader scenes in the story. Style also helps portray the mood of the book and helps the reader foreshadow future events because of tension or other created situations. One great example of this in “A Death” by Stephen king is towards the end of the story when it states,

“Let me look at the mountains!” Trusdale bellowed. Runners of snot hung from his nostrils. “I’ll be good if you let me look at the mountains one more time!”

This shows the author’s use of the word mountain to describe life and to continue it instead of dying. Another great example of the diction Stephen King uses use is at the beginning where it states

Trusdale turned, grabbed his buttocks, and pulled them apart. Sheriff Barclay winced, sighed, and poked a finger into Trusdale’s anus. Trusdale groaned. Barclay removed his finger, wincing again at the soft pop, and wiped his finger on Trusdale’s undershirt.

Although this is gruesome it shows the reader how eager the sheriff is to find justice or at least evidence in and “inside” of Jim.

Two discussion questions: 1. The hat is used as a specific piece of evidence in Jim’s trail making him come back to the restaurant in look of it but, why did Stephen King choose a hat, and does it symbolize something more?  2.At the end of the story it is mentioned when Jim dies that he expels all the liquid and bodily fluids in his body. They then find the missing coin in his bodily fluids but earlier in the text  it states “There was a bunk and a stool and a waste bucket.” this proves that Jim could have used the restroom and probably did because of the amount of time he was in jail for. So, did Jim must hide the coin during the inspection of evidence and then eat it before the trial?

Analysis Part 3: Isabella

My two craft elements were theme and setting. First, a couple themes I noticed were prevalent throughout the story; Justice and self importance/rationalization.

Justice- the sense of justice is definitely not the same as we think of it now, as in the 19th century the system and process is incredibly fast, rushed to the point of not being thorough or caring about the wellbeing of the suspect- the suspects are practically guilty till proven innocent. This is reiterated at several points in the story that I will mentioned later. The story deals with a horrible crime; the murder and robbery of a 10-year-old girl and starts off by telling the reader exactly who is suspected to have done it, which has the reader thinking that it can’t be him, it’s too obvious and sudden. (which also goes along with the rationalization theme) The entire time law enforcement (mostly Sheriff Barclay) and people of the town argue over justice and making things right for the poor little girl- even though I personally doubt a 10-year-old girl would want the man hung.  It’s a battle of right and wrong and he hurt her, so we better hurt him back. There are several moments that show how biased the law system is against the defendant/suspect, such as when on page 6 it says

There was no lawyer in town to serve as Trusdale’s defense, so Mizell called on George Andrews, owner of the mercantile, the hostelry, and the Good Rest Hotel. Andrews had got two years of higher education at a business school back East. He said he would serve as Trusdale’s attorney only if Mr. and Mrs. Cline agreed.

This is just the first of a series of events that prove the messy justice and legal process in this town and time. There are also quotes such as;

Roger Mizell, who had familiarized himself with the case, served as prosecuting attorney as well as judge.

..no one suggested that it was a bad idea. It had a certain economy, after all.

And

Prosecutor Mizell called half a dozen witnesses, and Judge Mizell never objected once to his line of questioning.

Rationalization/Self Importance; as the reader, and as human beings, we often think (unconsciously or not) that we know best and our opinions are irrefutable. So, of course, since the reader is pushed to believe Trusdale is innocent, he must be, and all the gathered evidence and jury ruling are wrong. Stephen King plays on the idea the reader will make up in their head that all the townsmen are vicious, that everyone is mad at a man who did nothing but be uneducated and simple minded. By the end, there is a conclusion, that no, somehow the reader was incorrect (unless you’re one of the few that believed he was a criminal the whole way through) and we see how being in our own minds constantly leads us to think our thoughts and ideas can’t possibly be wrong. Stephen king is trying to prove a point here about people’s self-importance and how it leads to rationalizing facts that were proved wrong with just our human emotion. The lines

“You believed him,” Hines said at last. ‘Fool that I am, I did.”

“Maybe that says more about you than it does about him.””

are all reminiscent of what I imagine King is trying to tell the reader. Most of the story is making fun of the human species’ long-time conflict starter- pride, haughtiness, and self-importance. I rather enjoyed the way Stephen King subtly introduced the theme, and very quickly had the reader feeling sorry for the criminal of the story. I’d like to be able to develop complex character’s or at least quick attachment and intelligent storylines and underlying themes and concepts in my writing.

Two things I’d like to know about Stephen King’s thought and writing decisions/process (discussion questions)

  1. How did he come up with the idea/concept for the story and what spurred him to implant the theme of self-importance?
  2. Did King have the idea in his head that Trusdale was going to be guilty the entire time? Was there a point in the story that he realized that would make sense and wrote it, or did he plan it all out/have an idea of the ending he wanted to build up to?

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