Saturday, March 18, 2023

Jack-a-Boy by Willa Cather: A Short Story #WCSSP2023

💙 For the past five years I’ve been living in an apartment building. And so, I have a certain interest in stories which are set in apartment or flat, just like this one. The name of the building is Windsor Terrace. I don't know what 'Terrace' alludes to in this case, but the narrator - a piano teacher called Miss Harris - says that "people who live in terraces are not usually those who have made the most brilliant success in life." Does it mean that the Terrace is the humbler type of flats?

💙 Jack-a-Boy and his family just moved in to number 324. He's a six year old girlish boy with big violet eyes. At first nobody pays any attention to him. Children are usually boisterous, and in an apartment building especially, they are doubly annoying. We can hear their footsteps while running around along the corridor, or shouting excitedly to their parents inside the lift. Oh yes, little children aren't truly welcomed in apartment buildings. But Jack-Boy isn't just any boy.

💙 He's a sweet little boy, unassuming, quiet and polite, affectionately warm to others. Right after the family's arrival, he visited his neighbors one by one, and they instantly succumbed to his pleasant habit of wanting to please everyone! At the Professor's, who study Ancient Greek, for instance, the boy would curl himself on the rug, quietly browsing at a picture book borrowed from the Professor, without disturbing him. And then he asks the Professor to tell a Greek story (Trojan war), to which he listened attentively. The boy kept reverently an ugly toy dog made by another neighbor, just because he "wouldn't like to hurt her feelings". How sweet!

Besides loving Ancient Greek stories and seemingly rather talented in playing piano, Jack-a-Boy doesn't like playing with other boys, because "they are such rough boys". But that doesn't mean he's a gentle coward either, for when a little girl was bullied by another boy, he bravely "flew at him like a wild cat, fists, teeth, feet and all the rest of him".

💙 Approaching May Jack-a-Boy busied himself preparing for his May-basket hanging - a basket filled with colorful tissue papers and flowers to be hung on the neighbor's door. What a sweet little boy, this Jack-a-Boy is - an angelic one, almost. And I think I've guessed all along how this story would end - what usually happens in literature to these kind of children, so I prepared myself.

💙 Reading this story, I could feel that Cather wrote it by heart; that this story is special for her. And I was right, searching on google, I learned that it's a reference to Cather's little brother whom she nursed through a serious disease.

💙 One more thing, the day after that fatal day, Miss Harris is discussing with the Professor about how missing Jack-a-Boy meant to them. The Professor's lamenting what Jack-o-Boy would have been if he were still with them - an exceptional Greek scholar. While Miss Harris was only missing him as himself, "It was the little human boy that I loved". I am perhaps more with Miss Harris, and I guess Willa Cather was too. But maybe it's better that he leaves this corrupted world while still being innocent. One might never know what he would turn into while growing up.

💙 A heartwarming little story about a little boy, that will leave you pondering more about human's frailty.

Rating: 5 / 5



  1. Your Willa Cather short story project is such a fun one! Glad you're enjoying the stories so much.

    1. Yes, I do enjoy them. Cather never disappoints me so far.

  2. Sounds a lovely story, even though it seems a heart-rending one.


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