‘Ghost’ by James Robertson: Short Story Analysis
‘Ghost’ by Scottish writer James Robertson is one of the shortest ghost stories I have ever read. However, don’t be fooled by its length. It is a short story that questions the validity of an individual’s personal experience with something beyond his or her powers to comprehend. However, such a person does perceive the supernatural element, which cannot conclusively be explained with sureness and certainty. It can only be ratified through a collective belief in the words of a person who, through his senses, has experienced this overpowering feeling of being in the presence of something ‘otherworldly’, or, yes indeed, an experience with a ghost. James Robertson wrote his collection of short stories to encourage the age-old tradition of the Scottish people to tell stories of the supernatural. Towards the end of the twentieth century or the beginning of the twenty-first century, a woman experiences the presence of another ghostly woman, and she believes despite her skepticism that she has indeed had an encounter with the supernatural. She thinks she has seen a ghost.
In this short story, James Robertson works on our practical mindset through a young woman’s character. She ‘feels’ that she has had a supernatural encounter in different parts of her home, garden, dining room window, and the old brick part that has just been redesigned. She feels that she is seeing a female ghost. I love the words used by Robertson to describe the feeling or notion of the narrator’s belief in the ghost’s presence – ‘visual echo’. This is such a beautiful phrase and rightfully represents us when we see something which ideally, we should not be able to see, and then the haunting of that vision ‘echoes’ in our minds.
The narrator sees the following:
- She turns around at times, noticing something, but it would vanish from her sight.
- She believes that as she looks through the dining room window, an unusual or unnatural breeze somewhat ‘waltzes’ over the grass and the flowerbeds in the garden.
- She feels a movement taking place over the remains of the old brick path of the garden, which has been redesigned.
- She feels it cannot be a cat or a bird because they do not move in the form of a waltz.
- She feels the movement was pedestrian that is, someone walking.
- She believes that her sensing is a female ghost with a gauzy kind of shade to her visible presence.
She is in a quandary. Should she accept what she is seeing or negate it? She reminds us of the leap year and the idea or creation of ‘time’. Time does not exist; we humans have created time. We collectively, as a community of people, have decided to accept ‘time’ in our lives, and so we go literally and metaphorically ‘by the clock’. This is also the same for leap years; we are the ones who have created an extra day in four years. This did not exist earlier. We have collectively created the twenty-ninth of February, an extra day due to geographical, astronomical, geological, and other higher sciences claims. It is the collective will or imagination of an individual and many people. More the people, the more the thing seems validated. Perhaps John Robertson, in the traditional Scottish fashion, wants to let us know that he had a Scottish background that believes in the folklore of ghosts. The people of Scotland spread the stories or folklore of ghosts from one place to another. It is a collective custom, and Robertson is just adding to it just like we have added leap years and time into our lives.
But the fact is, there isn’t any leap year, and there isn’t anything concrete called time. Time is the most prominent paradoxical element of our lives. We have ratified as people of science and believers in time that time moves on; dead people do not come back to live in the present. Therefore, the presence of ghosts contradicts this, making us wonder that if we can believe in something as abstract as time and the leap year, then why not ghosts and the supernatural? The fact is, we believed in the supernatural even before we believed in something called time. We, through our rudimentary form of communication, have spoken about the supernatural even before time during the evolution of our species.
“The way we spend our time defines who we are.” —Jonathan Estrin
But ‘time’ does not define us. What we allow to continue down the ages despite time is the core of what we truly are as human beings. We have believed in ghosts, and that has not left us. In this short story, the narrator claims that she, with shame, will go to her grave with the conviction that she saw a ghost. She is ashamed of it, maybe even cynical. But the good part is that ‘it was not the first time’. If she was the only one to have experienced this, then that was something personal. But we as a community down the ages have felt the presence of ghosts, and so, we are not alone where these encounters are concerned. We are also not alone, in the literal sense, either.
The narrator says this sighting of a ghost in her home and garden is not about her or her ‘gift’ to see what others cannot see but about ‘who had been there before’ in her garden. We can view this from two perspectives:
- A woman who once looked after the garden and lived in the house before the narrator and is now haunting the places she loved.
- A reflection of time and the humility to realize that we don’t have all the answers to the supernatural experiences we go through. We need to reconnect with history and our past. We need to realize who we are and why we claim to know everything when we have more questions than real concrete answers.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio; Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” —Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5) by William Shakespeare
Leap years and time, which we think is true to our lives is a lie. Whereas these feelings of someone near and close seems nearer than time or terrible leap years like 2020 can ever be. This is because, as Robertson says, – there are witnesses.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” —John 3:11-12
I love ghost stories, but I have never read one as short as ‘Ghost’ by James Robertson. I hope to read more of this author’s ghost story collections and review them for you on my blog. I have read ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’ by the same author and loved it. I will search my shelves for the book and reread it, hopefully soon, to analyze it for you here on insaneowl.com. Do continue to read good books and good short stories, especially ghost stories.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you all this weekend! Have a ‘booked’ weekend!
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