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Jake Grimes’s buggy, which makes two appearances in “Death in the Woods,” is a constant reminder of his wife’s confinement. When, as a young woman, the future Mrs. Grimes is an indentured servant on the German couple’s farm, Jake arrives on the buggy seeking harvest work. He quickly convinces the girl to “go riding with him in his buggy”—a phrase that suggests both illicit sexual activity and the potential of a liberating romance. Later, he uses the buggy to carry the girl away from her abusive masters. The buggy offers the young girl the promise of freedom and a new beginning, but it soon becomes clear that in marrying Jake, she has only managed to trade one violent man for another. The buggy, formerly an optimistic symbol of progress and movement, ultimately reinforces the idea that Mrs. Grimes is doomed to repeat established patterns of abuse. This idea is emphasized when, many years later, Jake and their son drive away from the Grimes’s shabby farm in the buggy, leaving the old woman isolated and on the brink of starvation for days at a time.
The old woman’s corpse represents artistic inspiration. As a child, the narrator sees the body, and many years later, as an adult, he finds himself writing stories about the fleeting yet haunting image. The story demonstrates how a true artist finds insight in the most unlikely places, as the narrator transforms an isolated, seemingly random event into a richly dramatic and significant piece of art. In its undeniable beauty, the corpse also represents the essential dignity of all human beings. Even though Mrs. Grimes was destitute and nearly invisible in life, in death she is revealed as possessing power and grace. When the townsmen come upon her body, they are each stunned into silence. Faced with the corpse, the narrator finds himself trembling “with some strange mystical feeling.” The image seems to be a hopeful one at first, as a cruel, traumatic life is redeemed by a final moment of beauty. But the fact that a living woman has become a lifeless object injects an ominous strain of darkness into the scene.