City Life Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The moral earnestness of Gordon’s style makes her writing similar to that of Doris Lessing. Gordon’s style has also been said to resemble the graceful language of Flannery O’Connor. Her deep, moving, and intelligent insights focus on ordinary themes such as debilitating alcoholism, slovenly housekeeping, and fragile relationships. Her omniscient narrator offers insight into the motivations of her characters.

Gordon uses similar characters, settings, and situations in many of her stories and novels. For example, Columbia University, Peter’s employer in “City Life,” also figured in her novel The Company of Women (1980). In her third novel, Men and Angels (1985), Gordon created a complex story regarding how the carefully ordered life of a woman named Anne is disrupted when her professor husband travels to Europe for a year on a fellowship. So, too, was Beatrice’s life disrupted when her husband was offered a high-paying fellowship at Columbia. Just like the protagonist Beatrice, Anne is exposed to otherwise hidden dangers related to everyday living.

Gordon uses repetitive language to create the rhythm that flows throughout her stories and her novels as well as precise dialogue to add to the development of the characters. The chronological plot of “City Life” contains many details and descriptions. The author’s descriptive skill allows the reader to develop a familiarity with the story’s characters that surpasses ordinary fictional characterization. For example, the detailed description of Beatrice’s temporary breakdown makes it almost possible for the reader to hear the breathing patterns of the slovenly downstairs apartment neighbor orchestrated with Beatrice’s breathing in her bed.

Finally, the danger that Beatrice experiences is part of Gordon’s literary emphasis. Her danger is not physical harm from someone else but psychological damage directly related to her childhood environment. Her exposure to an unloving, unwholesome household caused lasting damage. The means of escape Beatrice has used is not to forget about her horrible past but to learn to accept what has been and go forward with her life rather than dwelling in the past.

City Life Bibliography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bennett, Alma. Mary Gordon. New York: Twayne, 1996.

Gordon, Mary. “Getting from Here to There: A Writer’s Reflections on a Religious Past.” In Spiritual Quests: The Art and Craft of Religious Writing, edited by William Zinsser. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Mother Writing and the Narrative of Maaternal Subjectivity.” In A Desire for Women. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Labrie, Ross. The Catholic Imagination in American Literature. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

Leonard, John. “Mary Gordon’s Father Runs Away from Home.” In When the Kissing Had to Stop. New York: New Press, 1999.

Mahon, Eleanor B. “The Displaced Balance: Mary Gordon’s Men and Angels.” In Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Mahon, John W. “Mary Gordon: The Struggle with Love.” In American Women Writing Fiction: Memory, Identity, Family, Space, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989.

Sheldon, Barbara H. Daughters and Fathers in Feminist Novels. New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Smiley, Pamela. “The Unspeakable: Mary Gordon and the Angry Mother’s Voices.” In Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women’s Writing as Transgression, edited by Deirdre Lashgari. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.