Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The single most significant aspect of the style and technique of “A Bit of a Smash in Madras” is the fact that it is told solely in the first-person voice by Adams in a sort of extended dramatic monologue. However, even though the story is presented as if it were told to someone orally, rather than written down, the listener is never really defined or directly referred to. This technique of allowing the central figure, a character who is oblivious to his moral culpability, to tell the story, is a typical device to serve the purpose of social satire and criticism. It is obvious that the issue of slavery is all the more horrifying in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) because it is so easily accepted by everyone in the novel, even Huck himself. Such a technique of allowing a morally oblivious character to tell his own story is often used as an effective means to allow the reader to make the moral judgment that the narrator himself cannot make.

The voice of Adams, revealing as it does his values and his attitude toward the Indians (even though he himself sees nothing extraordinary about it), is sufficient to condemn him in the eyes of the reader. His slang and idiom reveal him to be middle-class in the caste system that makes up British society, a fact he reveals further by his scorn for those Indians who have been to Oxford or who at least affect such Oxfordian airs. Adams respects only the lawyer Shankran but only for his ability to “fix things” and get people off the hook by his political pull and bribery.

The tone of the narrator convinces the reader that corruption and prejudice are so integral to British life in India that no one in the story questions it. It simply is the way things are. At the conclusion, when Adams asks his listener if he knows of any “good jobs going,” there is no reply. To the reader, who has been a close listener to the voice of prejudice, arrogance, and indifference, the very offhandedness of the question is the final repulsive indication of Adams’s moral obtuseness.