Summary and Analysis
When this section opens, Abel has agreed to take the job cutting wood for Angela St. John. Upon meeting Abel, Angela is surprised and disconcerted that he does not bargain over wages. The chapter follows events from her point of view as she first watches Abel work, then attempts to communicate with him, and finally, after he leaves, brings in the wood that he has cut for her.
The narrator uses extremely sensuous language to describe Abel chopping wood; Angela's perception of his physical energy awakens erotic feelings in her which are tangled with some inner agony or conflict. She feels that Abel, too, is subject to inner hurt. The narrator also indicates that during the afternoons Angela feels a particular melancholy, which she seems to connect with the child she is carrying.
Eventually, she goes outside to watch Abel finish his work. In their conversation, her pride is hurt when Abel still seems unconcerned about payment, and his silence irritates her. She imagines a sexual encounter in racist terms.
Abel leaves. The narrator describes Angela's revulsion at physical life — in particular, with her own body and the fetus within her. Sometimes she wishes to die by fire. Finally, as night falls, she picks up the chopped wood, aware of every physical sensation from the touch of the axe handle to the sawdust chips under foot. She recalls seeing a hillside gutted by a forest fire and imagines the heat and violent energy of that fire.
Later in the evening, as she sits by the fire, Angela is visited by Father Olguin, who invites her to the feast of Santiago in the village next day. She agrees to come.
After the priest leaves, Angela sits by the fire and daydreams about the corn dance that she saw at the pueblo of Cochiti. She regards the dancers as visionaries who have seen a vision of pure nothingness, and she longs for this perception of nothingness as a cleansing or stabilizing experience; she also connects the dancers' attitude with Abel's concentration on the act of chopping wood. Finally, she assures herself that she can master Abel, and she feels at ease.
mules ladies' backless lounging slippers.
sacramental violence Sacraments are sacred rituals of the Catholic religion. Sacramental violence would be a sacred, holy violence.
feast of Santiago Feast of Saint James ("Iago" is another form of "Diego," the Spanish equivalent of "James"). Saint James is the patron or guardian saint of Jemez pueblo, and the day dedicated to him, July 25, is celebrated with a big fiesta combining secular merrymaking with religious observances derived from both Catholic and indigenous traditions.
the corn dance at Cochiti Cochiti is another of the pueblos along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. One of the festivals marking the sacred agricultural cycle is a ceremony to ensure continuance of the corn crop.