Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is superbly controlled story. In a story full of political and moral resonances, the writer is undoubtedly tempted to indulge in authorial editorializing. In “Beggar My Neighbor,” however, there are no authorial intrusions, and indeed the narrative voice is altogether effaced. All the moral conflicts and ambivalences in race relations are implicit in Dan Jacobson’s carefully modulated references to the white boy’s perception of his own intrinsic superiority and the piccanins’ instinctive obsequiousness and silence. These are deployed in strategic, and therefore effective, places in the narrative. The first time Michael gives the children bread and jam is a good example. In this scene, the white superior-black subordinate relationship is conveyed in Michael’s condescending, even supercilious posture and words. The tenor of his future relationship with the children is therefore established early in the story.

Jacobson also carefully controls his use of images. Images of light, shade, and darkness are embedded in the story’s idiom. Fantasy and reality, love and hate, acceptance and rejection—all these antitheses tend to coalesce, then fade and separate, at various times in the story. In the same way, various intensities of light, shadow, and darkness are called up for the reader, and they are meant to complement and enhance the tenuous link between the moral antitheses and ambivalences. The juxtaposition of these antitheses is the hub...

(The entire section is 521 words.)