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“The Black Spider” by Jeremias Gotthelf Essay

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2020

Introduction – Summary

In this selection of the story, readers are introduced to what is a christening party at a local farmstead. There is a considerable level of a description placed on the background of the farm, the activities of the people within the home, the type of food that is being prepared as well as the various temperaments and personalities of the major and minor characters as they are quickly introduced one after the other.

It is at this point the story slowly transits from the farm to the group (consisting of the godfather, the father, the godmother, and the maid) slowly making their way to the church where they are about to christen a child. Overall, from this section of the story “The Black Spider,” readers can immediately tell that the style of the author is full of considerable hyperbole, metaphorical allusions as well as symbolism (Dalton, 34-37).

This can be seen in the first three paragraphs of the story which allude strongly to the concept of God, creationism and the connection between the world we know of at present and the divine miracles that God has wrought to make it a reality (Gotthelf, 3-15).

However, the overly metaphorical style of the author does not end there; as it can be seen in other parts of the story the author places a considerable amount of time in describing minute details about the background of the home, what goes into the dishes that are created for breakfast as well as the background stories behind various characters.

Gotthelf spends so much time describing the backdrop of the story and its characters that the dialog within constitutes barely 5% of the entirety of the initial section itself! This is indicative of a literary style that focuses more on descriptive qualities advancing the plot rather than through dialogue in between the characters.


While lacking in actual dialogue, the author has adopted the strategy of describing the events and characteristics of the characters to help readers better understand what “drives them” so to speak. Such a style can be compared to that of Brian Jacques in his Red Wall series as well as that of noted science fiction author Isaac Asimov.

Such a style can be considered “lazy” to a certain degree since it easily allows readers to understand the various forces that drive a character almost all at once instead of relying on plot development or dialogue as a means of having readers construct their character profiles of the various actors within the story (Dalton, 34-37).

On the other hand, through this style readers are introduced to a far richer story backdrop wherein how the details are mentioned in creative and amusing ways help to enhance rather than detract from the story.


As mentioned earlier, the setting of the story is apparently in the countryside of Switzerland (exact location is unknown) and is relatively near to a local village that has a church and an inn. Based on the level of technology that was mentioned and the fact that there have been no references to any form of motorized vehicles, telephones, or advanced forms of technology, the exact date is most likely during the early 16 to 1800s.

Further research into the mention of mulled wine revealed that it was a prominent fixture in the diet of many European regions before the 1800s at which point additions to wine such as cinnamon and saffron was discontinued in favor of serving wine as is.

This justifies the claim that the story took place prior to or during the 1800s, but it is still uncertain given that no specific historical point has been expressly mentioned.

Point of View

The point of view of the story is based on a third person perspective which focuses on describing the characters and situations within the story within little in the way of actual dialogue. If it was not for the dialogue interspacing the fanciful descriptions, the story itself could have been mistaken for pure narration.


The plot of the story focuses on the approaching christening and the interaction between the godmother, the godfather (whom she is attempting to court), the father, the maid and the innkeepers (Gotthelf, 3-15). The mother and grandmother were phased out in the early half of the story, and the plot no focuses on the previous characters that were mentioned.


The tone of the story seems to be rather light-hearted and slightly comedic. Given that the initial scene of the godmother and her apparent force-feeding was meant to elicit humor, the rest of the story has a light-hearted tone without any apparent morose or depressing elements to it.


As mentioned earlier, the style of writing of this particular author seems to focus more on having the story progress more through description rather than through character interaction and dialogue. Evidence of this can be seen in the lack of significant dialogue among the characters and the sheer proliferation of descriptions that account for even the smallest detail such as even the ingredients in the mulled wine that was served to grandfather and father (Dalton, 34-37).

How does it relate to the country’s culture and literature?

Throughout the story, there are words interspaced such as batzen, Bernese, and neither which are not traditional words within the English language. Not only that, dishes such as a Bernese cake and fritters are mentioned which are also not traditional dishes that are served either in the U.K. or in the U.S.

It is based on this that despite the extensive use of descriptors as the primary method of conveying the story, the author purposefully included words and phrases that alluded to the culture of Switzerland as an apparent homage to his home country (research into the birthplace of Jeremias Gotthelf showed that he was born in Switzerland).

This part of the story though fails to delve deeper in the culture of Switzerland given that it alludes to merely the food, the backdrop and the people within it (Gotthelf, 3-15). There is no mention of particular cultural traditions (christening a child is not a tradition unique to Switzerland), culturally important locations or events or any other form of distinct cultural nuance that focuses specifically on some factor that is unique to Switzerland itself.

Aside from the use of the words mentioned earlier, there are no other parts that I can see which carry a distinct cultural identity. For example, in the case of the Harry Potter books, it is evident throughout the story that there is a definite reference towards the culture and traditions of the U.K. albeit in a way that has been changed to incorporate the fictional aspects of the magical world that Rowling had envisioned.

In the case of this section from the Black Spider, I see no specific cultural identity, and it seems to be more generalized that it is specific.

Works Cited

Dalton, Quinn. “10 Steps To Analyzing A Great Short Story: Take A Masterful Work Apart—Layer By Layer—And You’ll Gain Valuable Insights Into Improving Your Own Writing.” Writer 119.8 (2006): 34-37.

Gotthelf, Jeremias. The Black Spider. 1st ed. Richmond: Oneworld classics ltd, 1842. 3-15. Print.

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