The Whipples lived in the South. They had three children: Adna, He, and Emly. The Whipples didn’t have a lot of money, and often found it hard to feed and clothe everyone. Mrs. Whipple was a proud woman, who didn’t want anyone to know that they were struggling. She couldn’t bear the thought that others pitied her.
Mrs. Whipple favored her second child, who was “simple-minded,” and to which they referred to as Him/He. She was constantly telling the neighbors that she loved Him more than her other two children, her husband, and her mother combined. Mr. Whipple hated that she was so blatant with her favoritism, but Mrs. Whipple justified her favoritism by telling her husband that it was a natural thing for a mother to do.
Behind the Whipples backs there was a consensus amongst the neighbors that the Whipples would be better off if He should die. They also decided that He was the result of some sin that was perpetuated by His ancestors. To the Whipple’s faces they were very optimistic and encouraging.
Mrs. Whipple didn’t like talking about Him, but she felt compelled to let others know that she wouldn’t change Him for anything before anyone else had the opportunity to comment on Him. She tried to explain/excuse his behavior by telling people that he has always gotten into mischief. She liked to boast that He could do anything without getting hurt unlike her other two children. He also liked to quote the preacher: “The innocent walk with God-that’s why He don’t get hurt” (325). Talking about Him like this always seemed to ease her mind, and once she explained Him she could move on to other topics.
As he grew bigger and bigger he still seemed to never get hurt. He learned a few words, but he forgot them when a board came loose off of the chicken coop and smacked in the head. He never begged for food, instead he waited until the food was given to him. “He ate squatting in the corner, smacking and mumbling. Rolls of fat covered Him like an overcoat,” but he was stronger than his older brother Adna. Emly was sick a lot, so they often took the blanket from His bed and gave it to her when it was cold.
Mrs. Whipple was constantly worrying that He might get hurt, but He never seemed to worry about his own safety. Mr. Whipple always said that He lacked commonsense, which is why she seemed so fearless. Mr. Whipple hated to hear her husband talk about Him like that, and always chastised her husband when he did so. They were unsure how much He understood, and Mrs. Whipple didn’t like Him to hear them talk about Him. They were suddenly tired, and agreed that nothing could be done about it now.
Fall came around and Mrs. Whipple received a letter from her brother informing her that he and his family would be coming for a visit the following Sunday. He ended the letter by saying “put the big pot in the little one,” he was always saying funny things (326). Mrs. Whipple decided that they would make a big feast for her brother, and the center piece would be one of their piglets. Mr. Whipple was very upset, because they couldn’t afford to waste the piglet. Mrs. Whipple won the argument.
Now there was the obstacle of getting the piglet away from its fierce mother. Adna refused to do it. Mrs. Whipple jokingly said that He wasn’t scared and gently pushed Him towards the pin. He snatched the black piglet from its mother and ran with the sow at his heels. When He saw Mrs. Whipple cut the piglet’s throat He ran away. Mrs. Whipple felt badly, but she knew that he would forget about what he had seen and still eat his dinner. He was only ten years old. Butchering was supposed to be man’s work; the sight of the skinless baby pig made her sick to her stomach. She almost wished that her brother just didn’t come after all.
Sunday morning Mrs. Whipple fixed Him up real nice, but after only an hour He was all dirty again. She boxed his ears hard. When she looked at his face she felt really bad about taking her anger out on him.
Mrs. Whipple’s brother arrived with his fleshy wife and their two boys. They sat down to a fine feast, and everyone was laughing and having a good time. Mrs. Whipple bragged to her brother that they had six more piglets. He would not dine with them. Mrs. Whipple told everyone that he was timid and would have to get used to them. Mrs. Whipple’s brother said that He was getting along just fine. Once dinner was over the brother and his family left. Mrs. Whipple pointed out to her husband that her all her family was nice and considerate. Mr. Whipple was still upset about wasting the piglet, and told his wife that they may have appeared polite, but who knew what they were thinking. Mrs. Whipple became very angry and ended the argument by accusing her husband of never liking her family, and that she wished she was dead.
Winter. Times were harder than they had ever known. The cotton crop barely paid the grocery bill. They traded one of their plow horses for one that died a few days later of heaves. Mrs. Whipple was disappointed in her husband, and felt sorry for herself that she didn’t have a husband that was dependable. They had to scrimp on everything.
In February, He became ill; when his condition didn’t improve after two days they called the doctor. The doctor told them to keep him warm and give him ample amount of milk and eggs. Mrs. Whipple shamefully told the doctor that she had taken his blanket off to wash it. The doctor told them that He could get pneumonia, so it was important to cover him up as soon as possible. The Whipples moved his cot over to the fire and took the blanket off of their bed and covered Him up. When spring came He seemed well again, but he acted as if His feet hurt.
Mr. Whipple made a deal with Jim Ferguson about breeding the cow. Mr. Whipple was to pasture the bull for the summer, and in the fall give Jim some fodder. Mr. Whipple wanted to send Him to lead the bull over from the Ferguson’s farm. Mrs. Whipple felt uneasy about this plan, but let Him go anyway. She was so nervous the entire time He was gone that she stood outside waiting for him to return. Finally, she saw Him coming down the road, leading the bull by a ring in its nose. He seemed completely at ease with that powerful animal. Mrs. Whipple was terrified of bulls, and was scared that it would suddenly turn on Him and that He wouldn’t have enough commonsense to run. She saw the bull move his head to shoo away a fly and she screamed at Him to run, but He didn’t hear and led the bull into the barn safely.
As the years went by the Whipples became poorer and poorer. Mrs. Whipple was scared of being called poor white trash. Adna said that when he was sixteen that he was going to get a job at the Powell’s grocery store; he didn’t want anything to do with the farm. Emly wanted to be a schoolteacher, but she hadn’t yet finished the eighth grade. Fall came and Emly got a job waiting tables at a restaurant in the railroad station. Adna left also. Mr. Whipple was left to run the farm with Him; things went well until He slipped on some ice. They brought him inside, but couldn’t calm him down so Mr. Whipple rode to town for the doctor. Over the next four months He didn’t get any better; he continued to have fits and his legs swelled up twice their size. The doctor recommended that they put him in the County Home. Mrs. Whipple didn’t want to send him away, partly scared of what people would think of her as a mother. The Whipples discussed the matter that night. Mrs. Whipple didn’t want charity, but Mr. Whipple reminded her that they paid taxes that supported the Home. They decided that when summer came and Emly and Adna were home that they would take Him to the Home.
A neighbor offered to drive them in his carryall. Mrs. Whipple dressed in her Sunday’s best, wrapped Him up in blankets and they set off for the Home. Mrs. Whipple told the neighbor that He wouldn’t be there long, even though she knew he wouldn’t be coming home. To Mrs. Whipple’s amazement He began to cry, so he took the edge of the blanket and began wiping them away. When she saw this she repeatedly asked Him “you don’t feel so bad, do?” (333). She felt so guilty. She wondered if he remembered the time that she boxed his ears or if he had actually been scared with the bull or if he was cold but couldn’t tell them. She began to cry and hugged him tightly. All the way to the Home the neighbor never looked back at them, he just kept driving as fast as he could to the hospital.
Porter, Katherine Anne. “He.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Oxford. 1992. 324-333.