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The Shadows on the Wall: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina has taught English, has an MFA in Creative Writing, and has several published novels and short stories.

A shadow appears on a wall, and it freaks out the Glynn siblings. The events that occur because of this are detailed in The Shadows on the Wall, a short story by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman. Let's examine the plot of the story, and some meaningful quotes contained within.

A Shadow's Impetus

''The Shadows on the Wall'' is a short story written by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman. The characters include the Glynn siblings. There are five of them, that is, until one dies. This summary will investigate the events that occur and the shadow that appears days after the death.

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

A Family in Mourning

It is two days after Henry and his brother, Edward, have a fight. It is a day after Edward has died. Emma (Mrs. Brigham), Caroline, and Rebecca, the boys' sisters, are shaken by both the argument and the death.

The ladies discuss the argument. Henry is known for his hot temper. Too, the women make it known that Henry may have felt as though Edward was living in the house at Henry's expense. Henry thought Edward should go away, to which Edward responded: ''. . . he would stay here as long as he lived and afterward, too, if he was a mind to, and he would like to see Henry get him out. . .''

Distractions

After the discussion, the women find distractions. They go into the library, where Emma sews, Caroline writes a letter, and Rebecca sulks on her couch. Emma calls for a lamp. Dusk is dwelling in the house.

Emma carefully stitches her fabric as a distraction.
Hand Stitching

Rebecca retrieves a lamp and sets it on a table. Then she repositions herself on the sofa and shields her eyes from the light. Rebecca discloses, ''I always like to sit in the dark. . .'' Emma continues to sew, examine her garment, and peer up at the wall. She lifts her head several times until she inquires, ''What is that?. . . That strange shadow on the wall.''

Unfazed, Caroline continues writing her letter; Rebecca sulks on the couch. Emma rises to investigate further. As she nears the shadow, she questions its existence again. ''Look! What is that dreadful shadow?'' Caroline has no idea and responds as such. Rebecca observes, ''It has been there every night since he died!'' Caroline is calm, Emma horrified. The shadow looks like Edward, and Rebecca is the first to verbalize this.

Inspecting a Shadow

Emma suggests moving everything in the room. However, Rebecca feels that would be a waste of time. She already knew of the shadow and tried rearranging the room several days prior. It's not a shadow of anything in the room. Caroline's frenzy now matches that of Emma, although they insist the shadow is because of the furniture.

Henry enters the room, and he immediately spots the shadow. He asks the common question. ''What is that?'' Emma emphasizes that it must be coming from something in the room. Henry reacts. ''He moved the furniture with fierce jerks, turning ever to see the effect upon the shadow on the wall. Not a line of its terrible outlines wavered.'' Rebecca is close to her sofa, watching him intently while Emma and Caroline huddle together in the corner. Henry ''raged about the room like a caged wild animal.''

The chaos ceases when Henry realizes the absurdity of his reaction. It's only a shadow, after all. He then justifies his animalistic nature. Caroline emphasizes his failure; nobody can figure out what the shadow is. Henry responds, ''A man is a fool to try to account for shadows.''

An Appreciated Interruption

The dinner bell rings, and the group cautiously leaves the room, Rebecca trembling as she walks. At supper, Rebecca admits that she cannot sit in the room any more that evening. Thus, the evening's sitting plans are rearranged as Caroline plans for them to sit in the south parlor. So, they sit, and each of the women sew while Henry reads. Henry's insatiable curiosity leads him back into the library with the shadow. While he's in there, Emma peeks into the room to witness ''Henry Glynn. . .making systematic passes and thrusts with an old sword which had belonged to his father all over and through the intervening space. Not an inch was left unpierced.''

A Shadow on the Wall
A Shadow on the Wall

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