A Run In the Woods


W. Bill Cook

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Frederick Barthelme

Advisor Department



In "A Run In The Woods", one of the three stories comprising the work Lay Down Our Burdens , with the others being "A Ride On A Balloon" and "Where The Sun Fell Down", the narrators try to expose the truth about a difficult white and black situation through the assumed records of events supported by opinions, comments, mental excursions, and recollections which people inject into the story. In a digressive approach, the story examines events, people, impressions, points of view, and the climate brought on by the murder of a beloved old woman. The incident appears so odious that it blurs the distinctions between what actually happened and what was imposed on a teenager. This compels many narrators and collaborators, whose details of the events turn on curbed sayings and the words of hampered observers, to lend their perusals to occasional truths, speculations, and outright lies surrounding the situation, at the expense of disassociating or failing to rely on actual past and present occurrences in and about the county. The once respected County Sheriff, who is at the center of the controversy in the story, witnesses the wavering of his law-enforcing officers, and the county seat becoming a carnival filled with vagrant, restless, and demanding citizens. Most of them had been his allies. But now they have become adversaries broken into factions with similar ideas of a judgment, without the intervention of a decided recourse, as they wait for the sheriff to carry out the sentence on the jailed teenager. Committed to his intentions to uncover the truth, the sheriff pursues a course that a near unanimous populace thinks he should abandon. After the trial, he keeps the public on guard with repeated inquiries. He pesters the people who had taken in the teenager and who treated him like a member of their family. After re-experiencing the past, that showed itself in different aspects of the sheriff's life, and having taken stock of the final inquiries, especially those of the family with whom the teenager had lived, the facts of the case eventually come to light. And the sheriff finds himself as much a victim of judgment by traditions, altered truths, and impending consequences as the innocent teenager.