“The Ravine” is a short story about four friends who go to a ravine where a boy has recently died. It’s a popular short story for students.
This article starts with a summary, then looks at some themes and a question.
Summary of “The Ravine”
Vinny; his best friend, Joe-boy; Mo; and Starlene, all fifteen-years-old, descend the muddy trail into a ravine. A boy has recently disappeared and is presumed to have drowned there. Rescue divers searched for two days without finding him. Joe-Boy makes some joking comments about the dead boy.
Vinny doesn’t want to be there, but no one else seems concerned. Mo and Starlene walk ahead. They soon hear the waterfall as they get closer to the pond.
Starlene says the goddess took the dead boy. Vinny starts to believe it might be true.
They reach the pond and everyone dives in. They climb up onto a ledge about fifteen feet up. Everyone jumps in one by one. Vinny doesn’t mind this ledge. It’s the other one, fifty feet up, that the dead boy jumped from, that worries him.
Joe-Boy and Starlene kiss in the water.
Vinny’s mother told him to stay away from the ravine. His father believes people need to face their fears. Vinny promised to stay away. Starlene and Joe-Boy pressured him and he gave in.
Starlene starts climbing to the upper ledge. Joe-Boy soon follows. Vinny is afraid of heights and is nervous to see Starlene so high up. She stands at the edge of the ledge a little while and then jumps off. She enters the water feet first and stays under for thirty seconds and comes up laughing. Vinny thinks it’s disrespectful.
Joe-Boy jumps off next. He falls parallel to the water before curling into a ball at the last second. Mo jumps off the same way. They tell Vinny to do it.
Starlene swims over to Vinny, asking if he’s afraid and if his mom told him to stay away. He agrees to do the jump. He starts up the path slowly, wishing he was going home instead. At the top, he sees his friends in the water far below. He doesn’t feel well.
He trembles and wonders if the dead boy felt the same way. He imagines the dead boy was just there to have fun, like he was. Vinny suddenly feels peaceful and calm. He knows he’s not going to jump.
The group walk out of the ravine in silence, with Vinny lagging behind. He still feels peaceful and doesn’t care what the others think. Vinny looks out over the island, as if for the first time. It’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
Theme: Peer Pressure
Vinny is pressured by his peers to go to the ravine and then, to jump from the upper ledge.
Vinny promised his mom he wouldn’t go to the ravine. Starlene and Joe-Boy pressured him to go anyway, asking if he let his mommy run his life and implying it didn’t matter if she found out. Vinny feels he has to go because “. . .they would have laughed him right off the island” if he didn’t.
Along the way, Joe-Boy applies pressure in the form of teasing Vinny. He knows Vinny doesn’t feel good about the boy dying there, so Joe-Boy talks about him, even saying Vinny might find the body.
Before jumping off the upper ledge, Joe-Boy tells Vinny to “watch how a man does it”.
Starlene asks Vinny if he’s going to jump or if Joe-Boy is right about him being afraid.
When Vinny stands at the top, the others yell and wave, egging him on.
Mo doesn’t apply any direct pressure to Vinny, but his attitude is a stark contrast, which draws attention to Vinny’s fear.
With all of this pressure directed at him, Vinny undoubtedly feels like he has to prove he’s not afraid and that he belongs with this group.
There are two types of courage in the story.
The most obvious one is the willingness to do something dangerous—jumping off the same spot where a boy was recently killed. This is what Vinny’s friends focus on. Starlene leads the way, jumping without showing any fear. Joe-Boy and Mo jump like men, which means in an unnecessarily risky way.
Joe-Boy also says, “So?”, when Vinny says his mom might find out, implying he shouldn’t be afraid of any consequences.
There’s also the possibility that Joe-Boy, Mo and Starlene aren’t showing much courage, despite their willingness to jump. They might genuinely not feel afraid, either because they underestimate the danger, or it’s just not in their personalities. If there’s nothing holding them back, it doesn’t take any courage to go ahead and do it.
The second kind of courage is the kind that settles over Vinny when he’s preparing to jump. This is the courage to go against your social group. There will be consequences for refusing to jump, but Vinny feels at peace with the decision and will accept them, not caring what they think.
Theme: Being Yourself
Closely related to courage is the theme of being yourself. Vinny realizes he doesn’t have to be like everyone else. He can choose not to jump, and that’s fine.
Up to that point, he was ignoring his real feelings. He didn’t want to go to the ravine and he definitely didn’t want to jump off the upper ledge. He only went so he would fit in with his friends, and to do that he had to be someone else.
When Vinny walks down instead of jumping, he asserts his individuality for the first time in the story.
What is represented by the symbols they draw on themselves with the mud?
Before jumping, Starlene draws a cross on her forehead. Joe-Boy draws a stroke of lightning on his chest. Vinny draws a cross on his chest.
This seems to be part of the ritual of doing something dangerous, like a rite of passage. The cross could be them blessing themselves, asking for protection from the danger.
Joe-Boy shows more bravado by drawing lightning instead, likening himself to this force of nature.
Mo seems to bypass this step, which is in keeping with his character. He likely doesn’t attach any greater significance to the jump. He “would do anything anyone ever challenged him to do.” This is just one of many dangerous or unusual things Mo has done, so it doesn’t require any special acknowledgement.
It’s appropriate that Vinny rubs the cross out when he decides not to jump. He’s rejecting this ritual and the accompanying act for something else—an inner conviction that doesn’t require a symbol for others to see.