Title: About "Arrow-Tip"
Authors: Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2017.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02098
"Arrow-Tip" is longer than Whitman's other short fiction pieces. The tale may be considered a novella, and it consists of nine individual sections, each with its own title in the original.1 It is also the only known piece of Whitman's fiction to have an illustration accompanying the original printing in a periodical. The first page of "Arrow-Tip" in The Aristidean features an illustration of a Native American, presumably "Arrow-Tip," surrounded by trees.2 According to The New York Mirror, the illustration of "Arrow-Tip" was an engraving by Thomas W. (T. W.) Strong, a comic illustrator and wood engraver, from a design by Felix Octavius Carr (F. O. C.) Darley, an artist and illustrator.3
The title character of the novella is the Native American "Arrow-Tip," who is falsely accused of both theft and the murder of Peter Brown, a blacksmith in the small frontier town of Warren. Arrow-Tip is innocent, but he seems determined to accept his death sentence in silence, and he is ultimately hanged for a crime he did not commit.4 Early in the tale, the reader is introduced to Boddo, a character whose mother is Native American and whose father is one of the local settlers, an Irish monk who lives in isolation, Father Luke; thus, Boddo is the character that Whitman dubs "the half-breed."5 Boddo has a hunched back and a long neck, and the children of the village constantly tease and torment him because of his physical deformities and his mental disabilities. Years of such treatment from the children and social ostracism have made him angry and vengeful.6 In the narrative, Boddo has been stealing from a settler named Thorne, and Arrow-Tip catches him in the act. Later, on a hunting trip, Arrow-Tip gets into an altercation with Peter Brown and strikes him, severely injuring him. Townspeople find Brown, mistake him for dead, and return to the village and accuse Arrow-Tip of murder. In the meantime, Boddo takes Brown to the monk's cave to heal, but then, bent on revenge, does not inform the townspeople that Brown is living. As a result of Boddo's deceptions and refusal to intervene, Arrow-Tip dies. Like some of Whitman's other stories, "Arrow-Tip" may be read as an implicit critique of capital punishment.7 At the end of the novella, as the Deer mourns the death of his brother Arrow-Tip and Peter Brown goes on to have a family of his own, Boddo flees the settlement for good.
Whitman's novella was published in the first issue of The Aristidean in March 1845. The Aristidean was a general monthly magazine edited by Dr. Thomas Dunn English, author of a popular sentimental ballad entitled "Ben Bolt." Only one volume of the magazine was ever published. In addition to short fiction tales like Whitman's, The Aristidean published poetry, book reviews, biographies, travel pieces, and articles on literature and politics.8 The Aristidean also published three additional pieces of Whitman's fiction: "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem," also in the March 1845 issue; "Richard Parker's Widow," in the April 1845 issue; and "Some Fact-Romances," in the December 1845 issue. Other fiction in which Whitman presents or focuses on Native American characters includes "The Death of Wind-Foot" and "The Fireman's Dream."
There are no known reprints of Whitman's novella under its original title of "Arrow-Tip." Whitman later revised "Arrow-Tip" and published it himself under its new title "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier" as a work of serial fiction in eight installments in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846, while he was editing that paper. During his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he showed renewed interest in the fiction he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted Franklin Evans and thirteen of his own fiction pieces—including "The Half-Breed"—in the paper.9 In The Eagle, Whitman published "The Half-Breed" with the heading "Original Novelette," and he attributed the work simply to "A Brooklynite." Each installment appeared on the front page of the issue, and the June 1, 1846, issue of the paper featured Whitman's poem "The Play-Ground" just above the first installment of "The Half-Breed." According to Thomas Brasher, the first installment of "The Half-Breed" marked the beginning of the literary page, a change in The Eagle that Whitman initiated and continued as a regular feature throughout his editorship.10 Although the eighth and final installment of "The Half-Breed" concludes the novella, the words "To be continued" are printed at the end of the installment. However, no other installments of the story have been located in subsequent issues of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Whitman made several minor changes to the story before publishing it in installments in the Eagle. His change of title, from "Arrow-Tip" to "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier," may have been in part a practical decision: the character Arrow-Tip does not appear until the second chapter, which was published as a separate installment in the Eagle. But other revisions to the lengthy first chapter suggest that Whitman may have turned his attention to his new title character, Boddo. The hunchback could be seen as a semi-sympathetic figure in the first chapter of "Arrow-Tip," where the reader witnesses his persecution by a gang of unruly children who force him to tell them where he has been in order to escape. In "The Half-Breed," however, Boddo becomes more active. Rather than "goaded beyond endurance" by the children ("Arrow-Tip"), he "make[s] an impotent attempt at blows, which they easily foiled" ("The Half-Breed"). When the children make him talk, he is only too glad to do so: a clause added in "The Half-Breed" describes him as "garrulous by nature." In that it features a group of white settlers banding against a Native American character, this early scene also anticipates the later hanging of Arrow-Tip, a circularity that is underscored by the sound of the children's laughter at the beginning of both the first and the last chapters.11
Whitman chose not to include "Arrow-Tip" or the revised text, "The Half-Breed," in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he reprinted a selection of his short fiction. Some of the revisions made to the language of the story for publication in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle are recorded in our footnotes to The Aristidean version. Brasher reprints "The Half-Breed" from the Eagle in The Early Poems and the Fiction, and a complete record of the revisions between The Aristidean and the Eagle versions (not including changes to punctuation) can be found in his footnotes.12
3. "[Lane & Co.]," Notice, The New York Mirror, February 10, 1845, 4. [back]
8. See Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines: 1741–1850, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 347. [back]
9. For more information about Whitman's editorship at The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, see Dennis K. Renner, "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 79–80. As editor of the Eagle, Whitman also revised and reprinted "Wild Frank's Return" (May 8, 1846), "A Legend of Life and Love" (June 11, 1846), "Dumb Kate—An early death" (July 13, 1846), "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" (August 18, 1846; formerly "Eris; A Spirit Record"), "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" (September 7–9, 1846; formerly "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped"), "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" (November 16–30, 1846; a significantly revised version of the temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times), "Little Jane" (December 7, 1846), three of the five parts of "Some Fact-Romances" (the second Fact-Romance as "The Old Black Widow" on November 12, 1846, the first Fact-Romance as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island" on December 16, 1846, and the fifth Fact-Romance as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago" on December 24, 1846), "The Child and the Profligate" (January 27–29, 1847; previously printed with the same title in the Columbian Magazine), "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"), and "The Boy-Lover" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. Whitman's "The Death of Wind Foot" was reprinted as a work of serial fiction (August 29–30, 1845) about two months after the story appeared in The American Review in June 1845. "Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was reprinted on January 22, 1846, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean in March 1845. [back]
10. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 257n1. Hereafter, EPF. [back]
11. For further discussion and analysis of the character Boddo, see Thomas Gannon, "Reading Boddo's Body: Crossing the Borders of Race and Sexuality in Whitman's 'The Half-Breed: A Tale of the Western Frontier,'" Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 22.2–3 (Fall 2004/Winter 2005): 87–107, and Vivian Pollak, The Erotic Whitman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 40–41. For another story in which the villany of a mixed-race character becomes a major component of the plot, see Franklin Evans. [back]
12. See Brasher, EPF, 257–291. [back]