Child Death in Paley’s Samuel and A Little Girl

Child Death in Paley’s Samuel and A Little Girl
Child Death in Paley’s Samuel and A Little Girl
by Julie Lorenzen
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The boy in Samuel and the fourteen-year old girl in A Little Girl both died before their time. I was tempted to say the theme of these two stories was death brought on by a youthful rebelliousness. Samuel died while fooling around on a subway platform despite the protests of various adults. The girl, an apparent runaway who seemed to have fled out of a sense of rebellion, ended up preyed upon by a callous, unsavory man. However, I’ve more clearly identified the themes of these stories as being grief and responsibility (or in the case of Samuel a lack of responsibility.)

The biggest difference between these two stories was who did the grieving. In Samuel, it was the mother whose grief shone through in the last two paragraphs of the story. In A Little Girl, the parents of the girl did not demonstrate outward grief and mainly just stated facts like her name and age. However, the narrator’s grief can be detected throughout the story.

While the mother in Samuel was grieving because she lost a child, the narrator, Charlie, grieved not just for Juniper. He grieved because he had connections to her violent death. The crime happened in his apartment and it was his brother, Carter, who had picked the girl up in the park, brought her to the apartment and ultimately raped her. It was questionable on who was accountable for the girl’s death (the brother or the roommate) but whoever it was, Charlie probably felt responsible because it was his brother and his roommate who most likely committed the crime in his apartment. It is possible that the girl threw herself out of the window. However, I think Charlie just wanted to believe that she killed herself because he was in a sort of denial that his brother could have committed a murder. Denial is one of the stages of grief.
Samuel’s death appeared to be an accident, although the man who pulled the emergency chain should have known that when the train abruptly stopped, an unsecured Samuel would have been thrown from the platform. I found it interesting that no accountability was assigned to the man who pulled the chain in Samuel and also that both Carter and the roommate were not accused of murder by the authorities or Charlie even though they most likely contributed to the death of Juniper.

In Samuel, the grief conveyed was that of a woman who lost a beloved child. I appreciated how Paley created the mother’s profound grief so adequately in just two short paragraphs. I especially liked the last sentence. “She and her husband have had other children, but never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known.” However, I’m surprised that the mother didn’t show any blame towards the man for pulling the chain, her child for his reckless and irresponsible behavior or to herself for lack of accountability of her child’s whereabouts.

 I also thought it was unusual that only one character in each story demonstrated grief. However, if Paley had let Juniper’s parents show grief in A Little Girl, it might have been harder for the reader to focus on Charlie’s feelings. Without that focus, the impact of his rationalization that the girl threw out of the window would not have been there. Also, if Paley would have included Samuel’s father’s reaction to the death as well as the mother’s reaction in Samuel, then it might have detracted from the strong reaction (screaming and screaming some more) of the mother whose grief came through so profoundly in Samuel



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