Narrative Distance and Credibility in Stowe’s “The Ghost in the Mill”


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Essay #: 066350
Total text length is 5,666 characters (approximately 3.9 pages).

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The beginning:
Narrative Distance and Credibility in Stowe's "The Ghost in the Mill"
Harriet Beecher Stowe's short story "The Ghost in the Mill" is not one of her better-known works today, though it was very popular in its time. "The Ghost in the Mill" is an example of the use of narrative distance to make a tale more credible and thus enjoyable. This narrative distance is established here by not merely indirect narrative but what might be called "layered" narrative: what the reader hears comes through several speakers who have passed the tale one to another, and through mixed denials and affirmations of the reliability of the account.
All of the stories in Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories contain at least two layers of narrative: Sam's words, and...
The end:
..... in is paradoxically key to its appeal. If presented baldly and bluntly, "mysterious old Indian woman calls up spirit of murdered man to make murderer confess" is banal, for our time and probably even for Stowe's. The narrative distance set up by repeated layering -- a story told to children, who will only tolerate it told one way, from material the storyteller heard when he himself was a child and which he admits at the end may be a compromise between the true and the false – creates just enough of a separation that the more absurd parts of the story amuse, rather than irritating, the reader.
Works Cited
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. "The Ghost in the Mill." Electronic text. 12 February, 2011. < Text/a1247.pdf>