Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Unlike many stories by Barthelme in which he ignores or distorts traditional techniques of fiction, “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” is a readable and conventionally coherent story with clear plot and characterization. The self-revelation of the first-person narrator-protagonist is of particular interest. Although he is telling an essentially sad tale of domestic abuse, neglect, alcoholism, and separation, his manner of telling his story—detached, wry, and self-excusing—enhances the reader’s perception of the irony. Although the narrator reveals his own flaws, he fails to criticize himself or to feel guilty for his role in the dissolution of his family.

Another distinctive aspect of the narration is the humor. The narrator tells his story by employing devices that Barthelme’s narrators have used in many other stories, such as repetition. On learning about the child’s making of life masks as a school project, the narrator says: “I cursed the school then, in my mind. It was not the first time I had cursed the school, in my mind.” The story also displays the odd turns of phrase and unexpected juxtapositions that are part of Barthelme’s distinctive style.

The most enjoyable aspect of the narration, however, is the narrator’s antic and whimsical recording of events. Beneath the surface of the serious conversation between father and son about life masks lies a vein of intensely comic repartee. After a fight with his wife, the...

(The entire section is 439 words.)