Journal #2, Rebecca Harding Davis
September 30, 2009
"Do you remember rare moments when a sudden light flashed over yourself, your world, God? when you stood on a mountain-peak, seeing your life as it might have been, as it is? one quick instant, when custom lost its force and every-day usage? when your friend, wife, brother, stood in a new light? your soul was bared, and the grave,-a foretaste of the nakedness of the Judgment-Day? So it came before him, his life, that night...He griped the filthy red shirt that clung, stiff with soot, about him, and tore it savagely from his arm. The flesh beneath was muddy with grease and ashes,-and the heart beneath that! And the soul? God knows." (Davis 2613)
"Davis makes [Wolfe] an exemplary type of the man of feeling, whose feelings have been repressed by his environment." (Studies in Short Fiction, March 22, 1996)
The above quote is taken shortly after Kirby, Mitchell and the others left, leaving Wolfe behind at the mines. He was briefly shown the door to hope by Doctor May, who admired his artwork and praised him for it. He then surveys again his own appearance and openly expresses his disgust against his life, and was heartbroken.
I would say that throughout the story, Davis fashions Wolfe essentially as a diamond amongst the rough; or as the little lump of coal with a surprising gleam beneath the surface. It could be seen as an open lamentation of the brutal reality in which Wolfe, being caged in the lowly status prescribed to him literally upon birth, restricts his potential in reaching who he could possibly become. The stark contrast between the crude work of processing iron and the delicate finesse as well as mastery required in sculpting is, in my opinion, a subtle jab towards Kirby, Mitchell and the group of visitors in the story. With Wolfe being the talented sculptor working at a commonplace job, the unsaid implication is that Kirby and the rest of the group, with their comfortable jobs and relatively high social status, are superficial as well as simple-minded people.
The more compelling thing though in this story is Davis' treatment of art. Wolfe initially creates a sculpture of woman with intense, vivid energy; a woman longing for something. His repression is clearly reflected through his artwork. In the quote mentioned above, again he employs his hands in tearing apart his clothes, yet another action suggesting the release of repressed emotions. Perhaps Davis' ending for Wolfe with him cutting his own wrists is a grotesque yet ironic way of saying that this is Wolfe's last piece of artwork, which ultimately defines who he sees himself as and what he desires. A man, alone and desolate in his cell, with a blunt piece of tin between his fingers and with blood flowing freely on the floor; this is what I think Davis' message was, which is the tragic nature of life for those who were deemed to be low in social status from birth. Would it be too far of a stretch to say that, with all the biblical allusions in the story, that Wolfe's death at the end is, in some ways, reminscient to that of Christ? It could be seen that optimism is still within Davis' scope in this story as she ends with a hopeful tone: "While the room is yet steeped in heavy shadow, a cool, gray light suddenly touches its head like a blessing hand, and its groping arm points through the broken cloud to the far east, where, in the flickering, nebulous crimson, God has set the promise of the Dawn".