"Footfalls:" Foreshadowing Gone Wild

"Footfalls" by Wilbur Daniel Steele is at once a mystery and a work of magical realism, told by an unreliable narrator who deliberately leads the reader astray. Although the hero of this short story, a cobbler named Boaz Negro, is blind and has undergone great tragedy in his life--the death of his wife and three children--he is a robust man with "an unquenchable exuberance." 

Besides his general zest for life, what keeps him going is his one surviving son, Manuel. In fact, many people hint that he's a little too indulgent. As if to compensate for his son's perceived laziness, Boaz repeats, over and over again, that Manuel is a "good boy," which becomes a haunting refrain. 

"Footfalls" features an interesting form of narration in which Steele swoops in and out of Boaz's point-of-view to take on an omniscient POV and often breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. He also takes foreshadowing to a whole new level. For instance, when Boaz overhears his lodger drop a bag of coins, and through "some sixth uncanny sense of the blind" he knows that his son heard the coins drop, too--Steele writes that Boaz "wished that he had not!" 

Steele seems, in a rather heavy-handed way, to be setting us up for a plot twist involving the son and the bag of coins. Luckily, it's not what we think it is. After following the story's multiple twists and turns, we're left questioning the documentary style of the story and the narrator's reliability. I admire Steele's courage in that he's not afraid if you're a little confused while reading the story and doesn't feel the need to "hand-hold" his readers.

So once you've reached the end (no cheating!), tell me your thoughts. Were you surprised? Do you feel it was meant to be interpreted on a literal level or an allegorical one? Let me know in the comments section below.

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