The Boarded Window: Guilt and IsolationBy: Roberto Machado Noa
In “The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce we meet Murlock: A lonely, prematurely aged man, one who scarcely had a personal connection to anyone. He used to be an optimistic young man but he changed. His wife had died years before and when he dies he looks twenty years older than he actually is. Guilt and isolation are the result of such dramatic aging.
We learn in the story that certain day Murlock returns from hunting and finds his wife “prostrate with fever and delirious”. No help was available, so he “sets about the task of nursing her back to health”. After three days she falls in unconsciousness and he thinks she is dead. He starts preparing her for burial. He binds her hands and performs other cosmetics arrangements. He is astonished that he is numbed and he consoles himself by saying that everything will be alright; that once she is buried he will start grieving. Once he is finished he feels tired and falls asleep. He thinks he is dreaming but a panther has entered the room. It is so dark that he cannot see. The noises inside the hut paralyze him with fear. Murlock freezes. Unable to overcome fear he reacts in panic and fires his gun. The scared panther flees. Murlock loses consciousness and recovers it the next day. Then, he learns that his wife had not actually been dead and had fiercely fought for her life: a fragment of the cat’s ear is in her mouth, the bindings in her hands are broken and a “pool of blood not yet entirely coagulated” was under the body.
From that point on, guilt hunts Murlock. His role in his wife death is a weight he cannot escape. First, he mistakenly thinks she is dead when she is not. Then, his is not able to deeply feel his loss as he prepares the body. When the panther enters, he paralyzes with fear while his wife fights fiercely for her life despite having her hands tied. The pool of blood suggests that she died from bleeding and by being unconscious, Murlock could not even attempt to avoid it, or at least be with her in that crucial moment. According to the narrator, their relationship had been good and he had loved her dearly. He decides to hold on to that place and live a lonely life. Love and guiltiness are linked to his resolution. On his own, Murlock is not able to overcome his culpability. Isolation erodes him day by day. As a result, when he dies, he looks 20 years older than he actually is.
The story would have been different if only Murlock had related to others, if he had looked for neighbours. He would have been helped with nursing his wife, he would have been in a safer environment and none of this would have happened. They both had lived a more normal life avoiding all the tragic events that led to two horrible deaths.