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Cemetery Path by Leonard Ross: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Plot Summary
  • 0:55 Analysis: Characters
  • 2:34 Analysis: Setting
  • 3:26 Analysis: Plot
  • 3:48 Analysis: Tone
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we'll look at the short story 'Cemetery Path' by Leonard Ross. There's a summary and an analysis of the story, which examines various plot points and elements of the story.

Plot Summary

Let's start by going over a brief summary of 'Cemetery Path' by Leonard Ross before moving on to an analysis of the story. Ivan is the village coward who lives across the cemetery from the saloon he frequents. Ivan is so fearful that he always walks around the cemetery rather than taking the shorter path through it, even though it is bitterly cold. He is constantly being teased by the men in the saloon. The leader of the men dares him to walk through the graveyard and sweetens the challenge with a bet of five gold rubles if he can prove it by stabbing a blade into the ground at the center of the cemetery. Trying to save face at the saloon, Ivan takes the challenge, but inadvertently stabs his coat, leaving him trapped. Pinned in the graveyard by what he thinks is a ghost, he dies of fear and is found the next day.

Analysis: Characters

To analyze a story, it helps to look at the different elements and try to take into account the influences of these elements on the story and its themes. The characters have different motivations and personalities, the setting establishes time and place, the plot progresses the characters through the story, and the tone or mood of a story establishes its genre.

Ivan

Ivan is the main character or protagonist. The other men at the saloon call him Pigeon to reflect his timid personality and Ivan the Terrible, ironically, to tease him. He refuses to walk through the cemetery between his house and the saloon because he is afraid, though he is weakly dismissive of this fear when trying to stop the bullies.

Ivan's fears may not be unfounded or irrational, but rather a means of foreshadowing his death. Foreshadowing is when a story provides clues to later events. It could be argued that Ivan wasn't a coward but had some sense that the cemetery would be the place where he would eventually die. It's part of the human condition to have a paralyzing fear and sense of helplessness when facing one's own mortality.

Lieutenant

The lieutenant is the antagonist of the story. He leads the bullies in taunting Ivan to his death. He bets Ivan in front of the whole bar that Ivan will not cross the cemetery because he's a coward. He then establishes the terms of the bet as sticking the blade into the ground for proof. This can be directly attributed to Ivan dying that night. The lieutenant continues to taunt him even as Ivan is in the cemetery. This, too, serves to foreshadow Ivan's death and establishes the lieutenant as a bully.

Analysis: Setting

The time and place of a story establishes its setting. In 'Cemetery Path,' the setting is what makes the story. Without the path through a large cemetery located between Ivan's house and his favorite saloon, there would be no story. The influence of the cold climate also impacts the plot, as you see the discomfort of the cold those extra blocks Ivan walks to avoid crossing through the cemetery.

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