The Banshee

Position and Context

This is one of several stories Hannah tells Den, placed right after Weer recalls his Christmas at his grandfather’s house. Weer remembers the death of his mother, then Hannah tells him about the death of her mother, and then Hannah tells him this story, which she in turn heard from Kate Boyne, the hired girl on the farm she grew up on. After this story, Hannah tells him about going to see the Indians when she was a girl.

The Story

Jack and Molly are in love. The problem is Molly’s father, who is a prosperous farmer and won’t agree to the match because Jack is penniless. Jack keeps begging him for consent. Molly’s father has a haunted barn on his property, and he tells Jack that if he spends the whole night in the barn, he can marry Molly and get half the farm in the bargain. This barn is haunted by a banshee. If you go into the barn at night, she strangles you until you give her somebody's name, then she beats you, and the person you name dies. Jack tries to spend the night in the barn, but he can't hold out and he eventually gives in and names the meanest man he can think of. He persuades Molly’s father to let him try again, and the same thing happens. This time, he names a woman who’s already on her deathbed. The third time, he names Molly’s father. However, he’s noticed that the banshee has a moment of vulnerability right after she hears a name, so he grabs her then and chokes the name out of her. He next makes the mistake of asking her "who’s to be born." She answers "Tis the Antichrist, an’ you to be the father of it," and explodes.

The banshee is never seen again. She doesn’t kill Molly’s father, but he becomes bedridden. Jack and Molly get married, but he sleeps in a separate house, they have no children, and Molly grows into a bitter old woman.

Hannah says the moral of this story is that "it’s not always well to make someone say what they don’t want to."

Interpretation

There are certain very intriguing parallels here, although there isn’t any confirmation by onomastics.

Jack and Molly loved each other. Weer and Margaret Lorn loved each other.
Molly’s father and Carl Lorn, Margaret’s father, both own farms.
Jack and Weer are both poor.
Carl Lorn appears to be a skinflint.
The stone barn is reminiscent of the coldhouse.

So what would be the story here? Weer and Margaret are deeply in love, but Weer’s parents have lost all their money in the Great Depression. Now here there are several possibilities. Maybe Carl Lorn wouldn’t agree to let Margaret marry Weer, but Margaret was willing to elope if Weer could make enough to support her. Maybe Carl said that he’d agree to the marriage if Weer could make enough to support them. Or maybe Carl just refused to support them, neither monetarily nor by letting Weer work on his farm. Anyway, Weer goes to work in Julius Smart’s factory, confidently expecting promotion, raise, and marriage. Then Weer lets the boy die in the coldhouse and is stuck working as a near-slave to his Uncle Julius. Margaret marries Mr. Price (note the name). Weer dies a bachelor.

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