The Boarded Window by Ambrose Bierce
In The Boarded Window by Ambrose Bierce we have the theme of isolation, loneliness, hope, grief, failure and guilt. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the setting of the story the reader realises that Bierce may be exploring the theme of isolation. Murlock is a pioneer who lives on the frontier with very few if any neighbours. Those neighbours who did live nearby have since moved further west in the hope of prospering in their lives. Murlock on the other hand since the death of his wife has very much isolated himself from those around him. Though he is seen outside his cabin on occasions there is no interaction with others. This may be important as it leads the reader to suspect that not only is Murlock isolated (from others) but that he probably hasn’t moved forward in his life since his wife died. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the window remains boarded since his wife’s passing. It is also possible that Murlock is lonely with so little involvement with others. The loneliness triggered again by the death of his wife.
It is also interesting that the narrator tells the reader that Murlock and his wife when they first moved to the frontier had hope in their lives. This is in direct contrast to the situation Murlock found himself in after his wife died. Any hopes or aspirations he had disappeared when his wife died. It is as if part of Murlock died with his wife. It may also be important that the narrator never names nor never knew Murlock’s wife’s name. It is possible that by omitting this information Bierce is suggesting that so many people who traveled to the frontier to better their lives have long been forgotten. Their efforts, along with their aspirations of a better life no longer remembered by those who came after. As is often the case with pioneers they are long forgotten after they have led the way for others. Time and progress does not record their names. It might also be a case that Bierce is suggesting that there are many pioneer women who have not had their input into frontier life properly recorded.
There is also a sense of failure throughout the story. Murlock does not maintain his land, apart from the few acres around his cabin and he never makes any notable progress with the land or in life in general. If anything he remains defeated throughout the story possibly due to the fact that his wife has died before he had a chance to harness anything from the land. Though it is not stated in the story it is possible that on his wife’s death, Murlock lost all interest in working the land. Stricken by grief he became paralyzed and unable to move or progress forward. It is also interesting that Murlock never abandoned his wife, choosing instead to remain near her grave. It is possible that by doing so Bierce is suggesting that Murlock’s love for his wife has never died. Though it is also possible that he was overcome with guilt. Having previously assumed that his wife was dead. Symbolically the boarded window may also be important as by boarding up the window not only is Murlock making certain that the panther (or any other animal) can’t get into the house but he is also imprisoning himself. If anything by boarding the window Murlock is not allowing light into his life or the possibility for change. Rather he has lived the entirety of his life since his wife’s death focused on the incident of the panther attacking his wife. If anything he has lived his life without hope.
The end of the story is also interesting as though the narrator focuses on Murlock for the main part it is the actions of Murlock’s wife which really stand out. Assumed by Murlock to be dead the wife in her struggle to live manages to bite a piece of the panther’s ear. Which not only shows determination and a will to survive, something Murlock himself does not show, but Bierce may again be highlighting how important women were in frontier life. How resilient they may have been in comparison to men. By having the narrator focus on Murlock at the end of the story Bierce manages to carry on the commonly accepted tradition of it being men who struggled on the frontier when the reality may have been very different. As can be seen by the fact that Murlock’s wife fought till she was no longer able to fight. Unlike Murlock who after his wife’s passing and possibly due to guilt gave up on any aspirations he had for a better life. Remaining rooted to the past. Something that is noticeable by Murlock’s boarding up of the window. At no stage in the story has Murlock moved forward or made any progress. In many ways Murlock’s life ended when his wife died. Which may suggest that Murlock was dependent on his wife.