Monk Odlethrop

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Monk Odlethrop
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Odlethrop, Monk
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In "Monk," the mentally challenged title character is a mystery. Initially known only as "Monk," the narrator characterizes him as a "moron, perhaps even a cretin" (41), using terms offensive to modern readers but common and acceptable during the era of the story's composition. Near the end readers learn that his given name is actually Stonewall Jackson Odlethrop - though it is not clear exactly who gave him any of these names. He is born in the hill country east of Jefferson, presumably the unwanted child of Mrs. Odelethrop's son and a "hard" woman from somewhere else (43). These parents abandon him, and he lives for "six or seven years" with his grandmother (44) and then for "ten years" with a moonshiner named Fraser (45). According to the narrator, "all" Monk ever "learns" to do is "make and sell whiskey" (45), and "pump" gas and "make correct change" (46). He begins coming into town when he is "about twenty-five" - "pleasant, impervious to affront, talkative when anyone would listen" (46). The narrative's one explicit description of Monk's mental deficiencies is a reference to the "curious quality of imperfect connection between sense and ratiocination" (46). He is convicted twice for two different killings, one of which he is framed for, but one of which he clearly commits. Yet through it all he retains a kind of innocence and helplessness that appeals to Gavin Stevens' sense of chivalry and perhaps the reader's sympathy. Stevens can solve part of the mystery of Monk's life and death, but the story leaves unresolved the complex problems of a society and legal system that fail to protect such a fragile individual.

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