Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale: Character Types-Functions-Actions
Literary texts share with folk tales certain familiar character types (hero, villain, helper, donor, object of "lack" or quest). Readers interpret the actions in literary texts by unconsciously mapping them on folk tales' invariant action patterns.
1. the Villain, Dick Boulton, struggles with
the Doctor, the hero;
2. the Donor/Helper/Dispatcher, Nick prepares and/or provides the Doctor with knowledge of where "black squirrels" can be found;
4. the Princess, those "black squirrels," not the Doctor's Wife (!), sought-for by the hero (and/or her father) exist as goal whose reward for the hero will be psychological and/or moral, not physical;
6. the Hero, the Doctor who departs on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to the Donor, defeats the Villain, and weds/rules Nick and the vision of the "black squirrels" implied after the story's end;
7. the False Hero, Dick Boulton, who claims to be the Hero, often seeking and reacting like a real Hero is not punished--remember Hemingway is a modern author, not a traditional reteller of folk tales. In the fiction of literary realism, from Chaucer to today, False Heroes and Villains often get away.
Tale Episode-Actions (usually in this order, but all may not
occur in any one "parole" or text)
2) An “interdiction” or ban or rule is announced--implied "thou shalt not steal," "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass (etc.),"
3) The interdiction is violated--the Doctor attempts to acquire the logs.
4) The villain seeks information, seeks to deceive the hero, succeeds--Dick Boulton wants to know who those logs "really belong to," uses the information to deceive the Doctor.
5) A "lack" or "misfortune" is announced; sometimes the lack/misfortune is caused by the villain--the Doctor tells the Doctor's Wife a version of the story we just witnessed, declaring Boulton the deceptive Villain.
6) The hero is dispatched to repair the lack or misfortune--the Doctor is sent to summon Nick to "his mother."
7) The hero leaves home--the Doctor slams the door, apologizes, finds Nick reading under a tree.
8) The hero is tested or challenged or questioned--Nick refuses to obey the Doctor's Wife's summons, and the Doctor becomes Nick's ally in resisting it, changing the object of the quest from confirming the Doctor's Wife's rule to reestablishing the Doctor's rule.
9) A donor enters the plot and offers a magical agent or introduces a “helper” character--Nick gives the Doctor his book (surrendering his attention to "father") and offers "black squirrels."
10) The hero acquires a magical agent and arrives at the object of the
11) The hero and villain fight.
12) The hero is marked/branded/defaced.
13) The villain is defeated and the lack or misfortune is repaired.
14) The hero returns.
15) The hero is not recognized, confronts false hero, is tested (strength, riddle, danger).
16) The hero is recognized by a deed or mark or object, and the false hero/villain is revealed/punished.
17) The hero marries (often the object of the quest) and/or is made the ruler--by implication, the journey into the woods and the viewing of the black squirrels will confirm Nick's father's rule over Nick--or wait, does it really confirm Nick's rule over Nick's father, making Nick the secret hero of this story?
So what? Because readers of "high art literature" like Hemingway are looking for complexity and trying to solve surface-level puzzles, they are even more vulnerable than most lit-crit readers to the tale's deep structuring folk-tale rules. In this case, the double challenges to the Doctor's identity, which Greimas, Todorov and Gennette showed us, can be seen as tests in a hero-quest. Propp's unexpected closure rule (marry/rule) shows us is that perhaps Nick is the hero, and the Doctor the one who needs to be rescued. Placed in the context of the other "Nick Adams" stories from In Our Time (Levi-Strauss's "myth system"), "The Doctor..." can be shown to be part of a series of narratives tracing Nick's youth, testing, and mature return (in "Big Two-Hearted River" parts one and two). So the micro-tale of "The Doctor..." actually operates on two levels, with the Doctor as the hero of the inner story, and Nick as the hero of the outer story.