Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stafford employs both dramatic irony and symbolism to give the story resonance. Through the device of dramatic irony, the reader learns immediately important information that Emily learns only at the end of the story. More pervasive is the use of symbolism. Muff and Emily, for example, are symbolically compared: Both are unkind to humans; Emily is referred to as Kitty and Polecat; Lottie dislikes cats. Moreover, Jack insists that Emily likes fish. As Muff matures, she becomes less dependent on Emily and, finally, has kittens. At the same time, Emily matures and spends her time maintaining friendships.

Other uses of symbolism are Lottie’s stealing devil’s food cake, which foreshadows her tempting Emily and further suggests Lottie’s devilish nature. At Emily’s house, Lottie admires herself in the mirror as if she has never really seen herself. Symbolically, she has not. The evening before the shoplifting spree, Emily does cross-stitch embroidery, a symbolic foreshadowing of the next day’s deceit. Also, the story takes place during the Christmas holidays, a time for renewal. Together, these and other symbols create a pattern that reinforces the story’s themes.

Bad Characters Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Austenfeid, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Goodman, Charlotte Margolis. Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Hulbert, Ann. The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Roberts, David. Jean Stafford: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Rosowski, Susan J. Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Ryan, Maureen. Innocence and Estrangement in the Fiction of Jean Stafford. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Walsh, Mary Ellen Williams. Jean Stafford. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Wilson, Mary Ann. Jean Stafford: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.