Posted in Short Stories

Wendell Berry: The Hurt Man

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 6

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In Wendell Berry’s short story “The Hurt Man”, it’s 1888 in Port William, Kentucky and Mat Feltner is 5 years old. This is a little unusual in that in many of Berry’s stories, Mat Feltner is much older – of course, that’s because they are set in a later time. The older Mat is usually a side character; however, in this story, his five year-old self takes center stage.

The story’s narration also is intriguing in that the third person narrator knows that Mat grows up to tell stories of his childhood to his grandson, Andy Catlett. At the same time, this narrator doesn’t reveal the circumstances around a hurt man being let into Mat’s house by his mother. A saloon is mentioned prior to the incident so it’s possible that the man got into a fight. Was he in the wrong or in the right? We don’t know. But I think that’s part of the point the narrator is trying to make. Mat doesn’t understand all of what’s happening at the age of five but he does understand the look on his mother’s face:

What he saw in her face would remain with him forever. It was pity, but it was more than that. It was a hurt love that seemed to include entirely the hurt man. It included him and disregarded everything else. It disregarded the aura of whiskey that ordinarily she would have resented; it disregarded the blood puddled on the porch floor and the trail of blood through the hall.

Mat, even at five, understands that the circumstances don’t matter to his mother. The hurt is all that matters.

Distant Land

I also enjoyed the way Berry describes Port William in 1888. It’s a newer town than in many of his other stories but in many ways it’s still the same:

The town was the product of its own becoming, which, if not accidental exactly, had also been unplanned. It had no formal government or formal history. It was without pretense or ambition, for it was the sort of place that pretentious or ambitious people were inclined to leave.

This story is included in Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. I read it when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 6 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


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