“Daughter” Summary: Erskine Caldwell Short Story Synopsis

Daughter Erskine Caldwell SummaryShort Story Synopsis
“Daughter” Summary

“Daughter” is a short story by Erskine Caldwell. It’s one of his most famous and often shows up in anthologies. It’s about a man, Jim Carlisle, who gets arrested and jailed in the early morning after a shooting at his place. A crowd soon gathers outside the jail to find out what happened, with many assuming it must have been an accident. Here’s a summary of “Daughter”.

“Daughter” Summary

Early in the morning, after getting word, the sheriff brought Jim into town and locked him up in the jail. Then the sheriff went home and had breakfast. In the cell, Jim goes to the water bucket for a drink but it’s empty. Everything this morning happened fast. Many men have gathered in the jail yard, and Jim looks out the window at them. They want to know what happened; it must have been an accident.

The sheriff walks through the crowd and goes inside. He unlocks the cell and passes in breakfast for Jim. He’s not hungry, but Daughter’s been very hungry. The sheriff backs out with his hand on his pistol, telling Jim to stay calm. He locks the cell again, and checks that his pistol is loaded.

The sheriff goes outside where the crowd is gathered around the window. Jim comes to it and pushes his face partway through the bars. They want to know if it was an accident. Jim says he did it on purpose; he picked up his shotgun and did it. Daughter kept saying she was hungry. She woke up in the middle of the night and said it again. He couldn’t stand to hear it anymore.

Jim made enough working on share to feed everyone, but they came and took it. Daughter’s been hungry all month. Some in the crowd say they would have given her food, although they don’t have a lot either. Jim wouldn’t do that because he made enough. He shot her this morning when she complained of being hungry again.

The lot is full of men and boys now. Word has spread all over town that Jim Carlisle had shot and killed his eight-year-old daughter, Clara. The crowd discusses some of the surrounding details and gets more information from Jim.

Jim share-crops for Colonel Henry Maxwell. He took Jim’s share of the crop because one of his mules died. It just dropped dead in the barn; Jim was nowhere near it. The sheriff urges Jim to rest for a while.

The crowd pushes against the jail and everyone talks loudly. Jim still presses his face between the bars, and his knuckles are white from gripping them.

The crowd moves across the street to a vacant lot. One of the men climbs on top of a car and shouts and swears. Another man from the crowd goes to his car and drives off. A man coming by with a load of cotton stops to find out what’s happening. He gets down and pushes into the crowd around the car where the man is swearing. He hands the load of cotton off to a Black man and returns to the crowd.

The man who had driven off earlier returns. He takes a six-foot crowbar out of his car and throws it into the ground. Someone calls for Jim’s release. The man standing on the car jumps down, and he and the crowd move toward the jail. One of the men picks up the huge crowbar.

The sheriff tells Jim to take it easy and backs away from the crowd. He starts walking quickly toward his house.

I hope this summary of “Daughter” by Erskine Caldwell was helpful.