"Ditchy" Discovered: Arthur Miller's First Published Short Story

By Crandell, George W. | Studies in Short Fiction, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

"Ditchy" Discovered: Arthur Miller's First Published Short Story


Crandell, George W., Studies in Short Fiction


Arthur Miller's first foray into the genre of short fiction is generally supposed to have occurred in April 1946 with the publication in Encore of "The Plaster Masks," a story that owes its impetus to Miller's experience investigating the lives of soldiers for a screenplay called G.I. Joe. Actually, however, Miller's first published short story, "Ditchy," appeared 18 months earlier in the October 1944 issue of Mayfair Magazine, a publication apparently overlooked by Miller's bibliographers, biographers, and critics.(1)

The indelible stamp of Miller's authorship is most clearly evident in certain autobiographical details that appear undisguised in "Ditchy." In Miller's story, a tall, thin, young man--similar to the lanky Arthur Miller--revisits his boyhood neighborhood near Central Park in the vicinity of 110th Street, the same neighborhood in which Miller lived until he was 13 years old. The now 25-year-old protagonist (just four years younger than Miller in 1944) returns to the spot in Central Park where, at the age of seven, he had been attacked by three Italian boys who then robbed him of "his brand new [pair of] ball-bearing roller skates" (Miller, "Ditchy" 37). Beaten by the ruffians, the unnamed young man al. so vividly recalls the image of "a fist" as it "grew toward his face" (37). This violent assault not only plays a pivotal role in "Ditchy," but also bears a striking resemblance to an event that Miller painfully recalls in his autobiography, Timebends. "Foolishly roller-skating in the park alone one day at the age of seven or eight, I was ambushed by some Italian kids and would long remember the fist coming up fast to my nose as they held me down; then they ran off with my skates" (22-23).

In a scene contrived by Miller to accentuate the differences between the innocent young boy and his older, more mature self, the young man returns to Central Park 18 years later and is again confronted by three Italian youths. In the second encounter Miller affords his protagonist a measure of control and maturity that both the character and Miller lacked as seven-year-old boys. This time, the young man befriends one of the Italian youths, a boy named "Ditchy," in whom the young man sympathetically recognizes a child grown prematurely old, someone whose own physical pain (his mouth is full of rotting teeth) and lack of fear compel him, perhaps unwillingly, to bully other children and to antagonize adults. Acting compassionately rather than resentfully toward Ditchy, the young man "treats" him to a trip to a dentist--who promptly exctracts all of Ditchy's teeth--and, afterward, to a complimentary ice cream cone.

As a short story published during a time of great social upheaval, in the midst of the Holocaust and the Second World War, "Ditchy" has an importance that surpasses that of its similarity to actual events in Arthur Miller's life. Sharing features of both modernist fiction and the emerging forms of the post-war period, "Ditchy" provides an interesting example of the short story form in transition, a precursor of change in artistic sensibility transformed by affecting historical events.

In Miller's "Ditchy" the modernist influence can best be seen in Miller's focus upon a single, memorable incident and in his choice of narrative style. Similar to much of the modernist short fiction that Clare Hanson describes in Short Stories and Short Fictions, 1880-1980, "Ditchy" depicts "a single moment of intense or significant experience" in the life of its protagonist (55). That experience in turn reveals a "truth" to the protagonist, experienced as a kind of "epiphany or moment of vision" (Hanson 63) that then precipitates the story's conclusion. In "Ditchy," for example, the young man who is motivated to revisit the painful scenes of his childhood gains a more mature understanding of his character and his own relationship to the past. Miller also uses "the `indirect free' style of narration in which the voice of the narrator is modulated so that it appears to merge with that of a character of the fiction," a form of narrative pioneered by the modernists James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield (Hanson 56). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"Ditchy" Discovered: Arthur Miller's First Published Short Story
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.