“Alaska” Summary: Alice Adams Short Story

Alaska Summary Alice Adams Short Story
“Alaska” Summary: Alice Adams

“Alaska” is a short story by Alice Adams that appeared in her 1985 collection Return Trips. It’s about two cleaning women of different backgrounds at different stages of life with a shared connection to Alaska. Here’s a summary of “Alaska”.

“Alaska” Summary

Lucille Lawson is an African-American cleaning lady living in San Francisco. She has gray in her hair and has been married five times. She still feels the somewhat menacing presence of her ex-husbands, especially the one in Juneau, Alaska, who beat her on New Years Day, 1961.

She works for Miss Goldstein, a rich older woman who gets lots of visitors. Lucille polishes the silverware, dusts and irons. A young white woman, Gloria, also works for Miss Goldstein, doing the harder work in the kitchen and bathroom. She’s fast and very good.

When their shifts overlap in the mornings, they talk a little. Gloria likes hearing about the old days in New Orleans, where Lucille is from. Lucille sometimes worries that Gloria will find fault with her work and say something to Miss Goldstein.

Gloria hasn’t told anyone, but she’s obsessed with a lump she’s found on her right calf. She found it the day before going out on a date with Dugald, a bartender. She’s afraid during the day, and it’s all she can think about lying in bed at night. She doesn’t like hospitals and a visit would take all her savings. She thinks about being ugly and losing the attention of men.

Gloria’s sister, Sharon, has invited her to stay with her in Fairbanks, Alaska, for a week while her husband visits his parents in Kansas. Sharon is embarrassed by Gloria’s job and doesn’t want her to tell anyone about it.

Lucille doesn’t go to doctors either. She read all her father’s old doctor books and diagnoses herself. She hasn’t had a drink since that New Years Day, in 1961.

She believes her daily naps keep her healthy and strong. She just sits a while in a comfortable chair and closes her eyes. She does this now in a small room in Miss Goldstein’s (she gone to China but wouldn’t mind anyway).

Gloria’s trip makes her think back on her married life in Juneau, Alaska. Her husband was named Charles, the same as her current husband. They used to drink a lot and fight a lot. On that New Years Eve, he was in a good mood but then suddenly changed and started beating her. Memories of her other three husbands are very vague.

“Alaska” Summary, Cont’d

On the plane heading to Alaska, Gloria is seated next to a young woman who’s missing the lower part of her right leg. She’s terrified and feels it’s an omen. She leans back, feeling sick and tries to distract herself with random thoughts. The woman asks if Gloria is alright, but she tries not to talk to her.

In Fairbanks, Gloria rides a paddleboat with Sharon. Tomorrow they’ll go on a wild life tour. Gloria is still panicked at night; she has trouble sleeping and when she wakes at night it’s bright, which seems worse. She’s in a trance-like state. Sharon knows something’s wrong.

The day Gloria comes home, Lucille gets a call from her. She sounds younger and very happy. She was out late and is going to skip work today. She feels great and will tell Lucille all about it tomorrow.

At Miss Goldstein’s, Gloria excitedly tells Lucille about her trip, focusing on all the animals they saw on the wild life tour. The tour bus took them up the side of a really steep mountain. Lucille isn’t paying close attention and Gloria notices she looks older.

Two days after, the same tour bus went over the edge, killing eight and injuring forty-two. Gloria feels she’s been spared. That same afternoon, she saw that the lump in her leg was gone. Lucille could have told her that heavy housework can make a muscle knot up like that. She tactfully agrees Gloria was spared, not wanting to bring her down.

Gloria was talking to a man last night and seems happy about the situation. She might get a dog because they both like them.

Thinking about it later, Lucille doesn’t believe Gloria was spared. Any number of other bad things could still happen to her, even today. Something could even happen to Miss Goldstein.

Lucille feels too old and tired for the work she does. She sees the cold June fog rolling in. She thinks how one Charles could suddenly change into another. She dreads the end of her shift when she’ll walk out into the streets that are as dark and cold as those in Alaska.

I hope this summary of “Alaska” by Alice Adams was helpful.