Short Story #175: The Haunted Valley by Ambrose Bierce

Title:  The Haunted Valley

Author:  Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceThe narrator introduces the reader to a valley that he always feels weird walking across and feels as if he knows something will happen.  He moves on to discuss his encounter with Jo' Dunfer, the man who owns the land in this valley.  Dunfer is a bit of an odd fellow who has a strong disdain for Asians and narrator asks him about this one day when visiting Jo's bar.  Jo initially explains that he had an Asian working for him years ago who was helpless and arrogant.  Despite Jo' supposedly tolerating this for a while, he set up a project he figured would be too much for the Asian person, Ah Wee.  Jo' explains that Ah Wee couldn't fell the trees right and this made him awfully angry.  Before he can go on, Jo' sees an illusion in a knot of wood on the wall that the narrator also sees, it is that of a large black eye.  The narrator leaves and eventually wanders into the valley to where the site of the cabin was to be.  There he finds a grave with an odd dedication to Ah Wee that refers to the person as a woman.  Perplexed, the man ponders what this is all about but learns nothing more for several years.  Four years later, he is hitching a ride with a slightly eccentric man who asks him what he has done with Jo.  The narrator has no answer but continues riding with him.  The narrator later asks what became of Jo and the man brings him to the clearing and next to Ah Wee's grave is Jo's.  The narrator asks why Jo is buried next to Ah Wee and did Jo kill him for not cutting down trees the right way.  The carriage-driver explains that he did and he did so out of jealousy for the carriage-holder who was the other worker that day when Jo was teaching Ah Wee to cut down trees.  The driver goes onto explain that Ah Wee passed as a male and was friendly with the driver much longer than Jo was.  Coupled with this was Jo's refusal to treat her right and so in a rage one day, he killed her and narrowly missed killing the driver.  


Reflection

The story is a bit convoluted, which is not to be expected since this is the first short story that he published.  The hallmarks of his stories are there--some supernatural elements, a first-person point of view, a haunted woods, and some form of violence.  However, the story never feels fully realized.  The gender-play is curious on the one hand and yet, that someone trying to pass as a different sex is needlessly killed is also of not surprise given the times.  

Short Story #175 out of 365
Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  6/21/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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