Crabbe Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 45-page guide for “Crabbe” by William Bell includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 21 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Quest for Identity and Autonomy and The Relationship between Humanity and Nature.
Crabbe is the story of Franklin Crabbe, an eighteen-year old native of Toronto who struggles with the conventional expectations of his affluent parents and teachers. Highly intelligent but riddled with resentment and anxiety, Crabbe (as he prefers to be called) decides torun away to the Canadian wilderness. Once in the wilderness, the inexperienced Crabbe encounters a series of life-threatening challenges that he overcomes only with the help of another fugitive, Mary Pallas, and the lessons of self-sufficiency she teaches him. Crabbe is ultimately forced to leave the wilderness by winter but not before he learns that who he is rests in his own hands. Told primarily in a series of journal entries that span the months leading up to his decision to leave through his return to the city, this young adult novel is a coming-of-age narrative that includes elements of adventure narrative. The narrative structure also reflects the influence of Joseph Campbell’s account of the hero’s journey, in which the hero leaves home, meets a mentor, faces a test, and returns home after overcoming the final ordeal.
At the start of the novel, Crabbe is a patient in Bartholomew’s General Hospital. Despite his refusal to share with his psychiatrist how he came to be there, Crabbe decides to keep a journal to help him make sense of his experiences. The remainder of the narrative is told via flashbacks in the form of journal entries and several chapters, identified as digressions, that are set in the present.
Crabbe recounts his discontent with his life during the early spring of his senior year and the surreptitious preparations he made to prepare for his escape from everyone’s expectations that he would go to university and live a life like his father’s. He heads north for the wilderness one night, intending to stay at a remote campsite that he visited years before, while on an uncomfortable trip with his father.
Crabbe escapes an attack by a black bear attracted by his careless handling of food at his campsite on the first night. He then almost drowns the next day, after he accidentally plunges down some falls on the river. Mary Pallas, a beautiful woman who is also hiding in the wilderness, rescues him and nurses him back to health in her hidden camp. Despite her willingness to assist him, she refuses to reveal her name to him.
Over the summer, Mary teaches Crabbe the skills he needs to survive in the wilderness. Crabbe grows confident in his survival skills and falls in love with Mary, a feeling she does not return.
As winter approaches, Mary tells Crabbe that it is time for him to leave the wilderness. They plan for him to leave after a raid on a nearby campground that has supplies Mary needs to survive the winter. The raid ends in disaster when Mary is discovered by four drunken, rough-looking men at the campground. The men drag Mary into their compound. Crabbe rescues Mary, but as they run away from the men, it becomes clear that Mary is deeply shaken by her experiences. She dies on her way back to their campsite, and Crabbe returns on his own.
Back at Mary’s camp, Crabbe discovers details about Mary’s life by going through the contents of the pack she forbade him to look at that summer. After reviewing the materials in the pack, Crabbe guesses that Mary hid in the wilderness to escape prosecution for the mercy killing of her husband, an action that was illegal in Canada at the time. He burns the contents of the pack and then sets out to return to civilization.
Unfortunately for him, his journey is impeded by a blizzard and he suffers frostbite as a result. On the main road, he is rescued by a driver who takes him to a small clinic to treat his frostbite. When Crabbe awakens several days later, the doctor has amputated two of his fingers and Crabbe has double pneumonia.
He is transferred to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in his hometown of Toronto, where he is eventually reunited with his parents during a tense meeting. He leaves the hospital after his physical recovery, and takes a job in a sheet metal factory as a janitor to earn money. The narrative comes full circle when Crabbe takes a job at a wilderness camp for troubled teens.