Father is a generous and kind soul. He sees no reason to keep vagrants off his property. He wants to share what he has, though he has very little. He objects to building a fence, but he is not very strong-willed. He allows Mother to convince him they need a fence in case they are someday able to acquire valuable things to protect. Father is a religious man. He believes that faith in God and remembering the principles of faith are the only protection his family needs. Father frequently smokes his pipe and seems to use it for emphasis when he speaks.
Mother is not a trusting person. She wants to hide from the vagrants and to keep them far away from herself, her family, and her house. She does not want to share her property or her possessions. She lies and says they are out of coffee when Father asks her to share it with the sick old man. Her fear leads her to insist on a fence to keep people out. Her fears come true when she fails to lock the gate.
The Narrator is a child of unknown age and gender. She or he is just tall enough to look out the window, which indicates youth. The Narrator is unsure what he or she thinks about the fence and about sharing with the vagrants. The child seems to weigh the different attitudes presented by Father and Mother.
The old man takes shelter under the eaves twice. The first time, he is genuinely sick and needs the family’s help. The second time, he pretends to be sick to gain entry and then turns on the family to rob them. The old man is a wanderer. He says he has to keep walking even though he has no known destination. He says he will walk until he comes to a fence, which will be very far away. The old man is talking about his life as a journey that will continue until some barrier—death, perhaps—prevents him from going further.
The group of vagrants takes shelter under the eaves and gains entry to the house twice. The first time, the vagrants seem to be genuinely trying to help the old man. The second time, they return as a group of robbers, fooled by the fence into thinking there are valuables in the house.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Hamsad Rangkuti, Published by Gale Group, 2010