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Safely in Sarpedon

"The Stone Boy" Craft Annotation

By Omar Al-MahmeedPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Safely in Sarpedon
Photo by deepigoyal on Unsplash

Named for its protagonist, “The Stone Boy” tells the story of nine-year-old Arnold as he learns to survive his community’s judgment of him after he accidently kills his older brother during a pea-picking trip to the fields of his family’s farm. Arnold learns to symbolically turn himself into stone to distance himself from the people in his life, making him inert and emotionless. The title becomes a powerful metaphor for how Arnold reacts to other people’s perceptions of him, making him a stone version of himself—cold and unfeeling, absent of emotion—yet still able to retain his boyhood. Ironically, Gina Berriault revivifies inanimate objects within “The Stone Boy” with human qualities through uses of lyrical simile; which begs the question: how does Gina Berriault’s title “The Stone Boy” draw a connection between human emotion and the personification of inanimate objects with human qualities through her use of simile? Does this connection between Arnold’s symbolic emotional petrification show that he is both living and non-living; able to still act straightforwardly in the face of his brother’s death while still retaining his humanity and boyhood?

To discern when Arnold began to detach himself from the fully sentient, one must first look at the scenes in which Arnold still retains his child-like humanity. As the story opens, Berriault’s introduction of Arnold shows a jovial child who “began to laugh deliriously making soft, snorting noises,” and whose “laughter continuing, like hiccups, against his will” with his brother Eugene. Her opening scene to the story shows a boy still capable to feeling joy and conduct in laughter with his older brother, a boy still very much as sentient as the living. What follows is an ordinary morning for Arnold, one where he can express himself freely in a verity of human emotion and action. He collects his rifle and loads it with bullets. Later, he is “enthralled” by his brother’s “silent praise unto himself.” This Arnold can feel wonder and fascination through admiration for his brother. The inclusion of the rifle foreshadows Eugene’s inadvertent death by violence. Arnold accidentally shoots Eugene when Arnold’s rifle goes off after tugging on it when it latched on the wire of a fence. Berriault chooses to give the nine-year-old a rifle to show just how fleeting innocence was, and how anyone can lose it thanks to this direct and realist prose. Arnold begins to feel his final human emotions soon after when he watches his brother die before him. Here, the author begins to revive the atmosphere of the farm around Arnold and give it sentience:

“Arnold squatted beside his brother. Eugie seemed to be climbing the earth, as if the earth ran up and down, and when he found he couldn't scale it he lay still…Then Arnold saw it, under the tendril of hair at the nape of the neck–a slow rising of bright blood. It had an obnoxious movement, like that of a parasite.”

Berriault begins to awaken the environment through movement first, allowing the earth run “up and down” while Eugene laid still on it. In addition, she likens the blood spilling out of Eugene to the hasty and unsettling jerky movements common to tiny parasites. Movement in Berriault’s similes are vital for the personification of the inanimate because it can be witnesses at a distance as the environment begins to stir to life. Arnold, now run with shock after a day of normalcy, makes the choice to complete his half of the chore he set for himself and begins to pick peas in the field as if nothing remarkable has happened. He turns into a “stone boy” in this very instance, trying to protect himself from the trauma he has witnessed. But as stated, Berriault has already awakened the inert by now, thus indicating that Arnold’s stone body should not hinder his ability to feel human emotion. Following movement, the farmland is personified then of in the form of sensation and touch:

“It was a warmth on his back, like a large hand laid firmly there, that made him raise his head. Way up the slope the gray farmhouse was struck by the sun. While his head had been bent the land had grown bright around him.”

Here, Berriault begins to breathe more characteristics into her simile by giving it a gesture—the comforting hand that pats the back of those who work hard. Arnold, now with his pea-picking chore complete welcomes the morning sunrise. The sun brings warmth and light to everything surrounding Arnold, but he is unresponsive until the sun reaches out to him personally; this possibly indicates that he has now begun to detach himself from the world. The evidence of this blossoms in how he shows no sign of grief or remorse to Eugene’s death, stating only that “Eugie’s dead” coldly to his family when asked where his brother is. Arnold’s expression to the tragic event marks him as one that is “too reasonable” and “mean” by his community, saying that his lack of response in the face of tragedy is flippant. But the narration makes sure to specify that even as stone, Arnold still feels “the terror he had felt when he had knelt beside Eugie.” Gina Berriault then quickens her simile with breath, consciousness, and deathly stillness—that which makes living things truly alive and truly dead:

“Outside everything was still. The fences, the shocks of wheat seen through the window before him were so still it was as if they moved and breathed in the daytime and had fallen silent with the lateness of the hour. It was a silence that seemed to observe his father, a figure moving alone around the yard, his lantern casting a circle of light by his feet.”

Berriault animates wheat by giving them the ability to breath in by daylight but then comments on its stillness, as if being able to notice tension within the family unit. She also gifts the silence sight and a consciousness to “observe [Arnold’s] father.” These similes contrast the stony and cold narration by giving inanimate objects their life in “The Stone Boy,” showing that Arnold is both a sentient boy and insentient stone in his current state. Arnold begins his petrification to protect himself from the onslaught he met with, “he called upon his pride to protect him from them.”

Gina Berriault indicates through her craft that simile personifies inanimate objects to compliments Arnold’s dual nature throughout. By now, Arnold has encased himself in stone against the people who passed judgment on him, but by doing he has also made him to be what they all say he is: cruel natured. Not wanting to lose the symbolism of personification, Gina Berriault wraps the story with the last line which reads, “he went out the door and down the back steps, his legs trembling from the fright his answer gave him.”

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About the Creator

Omar Al-Mahmeed

Omar Al-Mahmeed is a bi-cultural, dual national Bahraini-American currently living in Houston, Texas and a graduate of the University of Houston’s English Literature department. He enjoys writing fiction, playing D&D, and reading edits!

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    Omar Al-MahmeedWritten by Omar Al-Mahmeed

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