“The Elopement of Allen Poole” Response Post • Willa Cather Short Story Project

Have you had a chance to read “The Elopement of Allen Poole” yet?

I enjoyed this story very much, perhaps because it includes some classic Cather landscape descriptions, even if they are at times a bit more conventional and wordy than the more mature Cather would write. Some of the descriptions and allusions are heavy-handed, but they set the tone rather than pulled me out of the story as can happen sometimes with blatant foreshadowing.

In the opening scene, I liked how Nell, “sighed and looked with a trouble expression at the thin spiral of blue smoke that curled up from a house hidden behind the pine trees.” I imagine that’s smoke from Allen’s still, the danger that hangs over their love.

The description of the landscape and the embeddedness of the characters within that landscape, one where the floras are named and people’s movement within it are known, helps to enhance the intimacy I experienced with Allen. I “felt” Allen as he lazed away the morning and then walked and whistled his way through his world.

Unfortunately, his talents are what get him killed. Both his still and his whistling doom him, two things that many folks in the community seem to enjoy. We’re told early on that Allen was, “noted for his whistling” and that people, “could tell Allen Poole’s whiskey or his whistle whenever they found him.” So when he breaks out into, “such a passion of music” as he’s walking in the dark toward Nell, the revenue men easily find their man.

On first reading of “The Elopement of Allen Poole,” I did notice the madonna imagery surrounding Nell. Well, how could I not when she’s called, “a little Madonna of the hills” and holds her dying lover like Michelangelo’s Pietà.

It was only during my second reading of the story that the use of the word “passion” struck me as related not only to the passion that Allen feels in his heart, but also brought to mind the word’s other definition, that of the suffering and death of Jesus or other Christian martyrs.

Where there’s a Jesus there’s a Judas

Where there’s a Jesus there’s a Judas. Who betrays Allen in this story? I think it’s the preacher. Allen tells Nell, “I done got the license now, an’ told the preacher we was comin’.” If the preacher is Judas then the revenue men are the Roman soldiers.

In her thoughtful response to this story txfen wrote, “For many of us, Cather’s endings are just the introduction to her characters. They linger in our imaginations, forcing us to continue their stories.” Readers know that Nell and Allen probably would not have had a happy life together. Allen clearly saw his potential future self and it was not a pretty vision. Do you think he could have sacrificed his life to spare Nell?

I’ve found myself thinking about the revenue officer who shot Allen. “The officer was not a bad fellow, only young and a little hot headed, and that agonized cry took all the nerve out of him, and he drove back toward town to get the ringing sound out of his ears.” What does this man’s future hold?

What do you think?

What do you think of “The Elopement of Allen Poole”? Share your thoughts in the comments below this post. Let’s talk!

New to this blog? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we’re reading one Cather short story a month. Jump in anytime!

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