Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of “Arabesque—The Mouse” is that of an arabesque, a carefully woven Persian carpet or Byzantine mosaic. By using this technique, Coppard is suggesting that people’s lives are patterns of their own weaving made from the circumstances and events that happen to them. The circumstances of Filip’s life are not his to choose, but the pattern is his. All memory is selective, and his memory selects warmth followed by loss.

Coppard’s style resembles the techniques of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who wrote during the period in which Coppard wrote “Arabesque—The Mouse.” Joyce and Woolf employed a stream-of-consciousness style, however, which differs from Coppard’s work. The arabesque technique uses all materials remembered to form the pattern of the whole; there are no loose threads or unconnected memories as is so often the case with stream-of-consciousness writings.

Coppard’s technique leaves many unanswered questions in the mind of the reader. Were there no other nurturing influences in Filip’s life? Why did his relationship with Cassia fail? Why does he read Russian novels? Characteristically, Coppard gives the reader some hints about Filip’s life but leaves the reader to sort them out and form conclusions about Filip. In his studied stinginess with the reader, Coppard points toward other minimalist writers who succeeded him later in the twentieth century.

At the close of the story, Coppard refers to the mouse twice as “the little philosopher.” Is Coppard suggesting that the mouse has something to teach Filip, or does Filip himself see the mouse as a little philosopher? The reader cannot be sure. Filip certainly rushes out to rescue the mouse, but what would he do with it if he found it? It has no forefeet, just as Filip’s mother had no hands. Perhaps Coppard uses the many indeterminants in “Arabesque—The Mouse” to show just how precarious the task of building a secure self is. After chance kills Filip’s mother, Filip becomes a wounded, maimed person just as she was; however, unlike her, he must live without the metaphorical hands to reach out to others. The incident with the mouse reminds Filip of his own incompleteness. Coppard’s arabesque technique makes the tenuous life-maiming events in his story the pattern of Filip’s psyche.