In 1938 a 13-year old boy lives through a late summer day in a small town in Tidewater, Virginia. As he delivers the day’s newspapers for Quigley, the local drugstore owner, his mother lies at home dying of cancer. She screams in unrelenting pain, but Dr. Beecroft won’t allow her to have a higher dose of morphine--"Jeff, I just don’t think I can give her any more." He does offer to try a bit of cocaine, but she soon sinks into a terminal coma.

Through the boy’s eyes and memory, we learn of the tension between husband and wife (both well educated people) and about their life in his home town among ignorant Rednecks. As German troops are massing along the border of Czechoslovakia, the boy’s mother dies. His father greets the sympathy of the local clergyman and his wife with a violent tirade against God (if he exists).


This is one of three tales in Styron’s thin volume of the same name. They reflect Styron’s own experience growing up in eastern Virginia in the 1930’s. The first is "Love Day," a tale told by a 20 year old Marine; in "Shadrach" the boy is 10 years old; in "A Tidewater Morning," he is 13. This long story is a sensitive evocation of a boy’s memories of his dying mother.

It also illustrates the failure of medicine to assist during the last days of dying: while the nurse (Miss Slocum) is depicted very sympathetically, Dr. Beecroft is characterized primarily by his inability to relieve the woman’s pain. Why can’t he? He simply refuses to give her more morphine because, he says, she has developed "a kind of tolerance . . . . " But isn’t that a reason why he SHOULD increase the dose?

Primary Source

A Tidewater Morning. Three Tales from Youth


Random House

Place Published

New York



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