Benét uses foreshadowing to good effect in the story as he drops hints that Rimington is not what he appears to be. When he looks in the mirror as he is lying on the hospital bed, he admits that his face “seemed like the face of an utter stranger.” He is in a “shaken point of consciousness” when he first stars at the mirror. As he looks at his reflection, “the lines began to smooth away, the heavy cheeks grew younger . . . as if he gazed at one of those magic tricks of the camera.” A magic trick is being performed by his psyche, which has been suppressing his dreams of success in New York City. At the end of the story readers learn that his subconscious has manufactured this version of James through a dream. Another moment of foreshadowing occurs when he notes that his mother’s only desire was “to have her children grow up decent small-town citizens,” which is exactly what the real James has become.
Benét uses the mirror as a symbol of James’s subconscious, which enables the author to present a dual vision of his main character as well as the ironic twist at the end of the story. Before he is completely conscious, James sees his reflection in what appears to be a mirror that he assumes a nurse is holding over his head. This mirror allows him to examine his past as it presents him with a look at what might have been. Sometimes it clouds, suggesting that the visions are false, as when James wonders what would have happened if he had “stayed in Bladesburg, worn the patched coat.” When it clears, he continues his dreams of wealth and power.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Stephen Vincent Benet, Published by Gale Group, 2010