Barred Owl

Offutt, Chris

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jun-01-2000


In Greeley, Colorado, where he paints dormitory rooms for a living, the narrator encounters Tarvis, a refugee (like himself) from the hills of Kentucky. Tarvis lives in a shack outside of town, "a little version of eastern Kentucky, complete with woodpiles, cardboard windows, and a lousy road." (p. 118)

The narrator spends most of his free time drinking to get drunk at the Pig's Eye, but when Tarvis asks him to come out and skin a barred owl he found dead on the road, the painter agrees. He is a hunter with lots of experience skinning animals, while Tarvis shamefully admits that he doesn't hunt. He has never been able to shoot an animal. Tarvis collects bird wings and animal bones, and he is always on the lookout for arrowheads.

Months later, the narrator learns that Tarvis has committed suicide. He had found a chert arrowhead, fitted it to an arrow, rigged up a bow to an iron plate and screwed it to the floor, then sat in front of the bow and released the arrow. Tarvis finally made it home to Kentucky when his body was sent there for burial.


Chris Offut writes in a compressed, spare style reminiscent of Raymond Carver. The eight stories in Out of the Woods all concern displaced persons, men who have turned their backs on the ridges of eastern Kentucky, or who have returned home and discovered that they can't go home again.

"Barred Owl" presents the dead owl as image and metaphor. The owl is a ruthless hunter; Tarvis, the scavenger who found its body, "don't even kill mosquitoes." (p. 125) On the outside the owl was perfect, its skin and feathers beautifully preserved. Inside, though, most of its bones were broken. "I'd never seen a creature so clean on the outside and so tore up on the inside." (p. 121)

Primary Source

Out of the Woods


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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