Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite what at times appears to be stark realism in his works, Babel’s literary art is often more concerned with style than content. Usually, however, one may perceive some basic relationship between the two, as in the following images from the opening section of “Crossing into Poland”: “the highroad . . . built by Nicholas I upon the bones of peasants”; “the orange sun rolled down the sky like a lopped-off head”; and “into the cool of evening dripped the smell of yesterday’s blood.” This imagery found early in the story is given an especially ominous character as it is contrasted, in the same opening paragraph, to bright visions of peace and serenity: “on the horizon virginal buckwheat rose like the wall of a distant monastery”; “the . . . peaceful stream . . . wound weary arms through a wilderness of hops”; and “On the waves rested a majestic moon.”

However, after all in the house have gone to sleep, and “faint-hearted poverty” has “closed in” over the narrator’s bed on the floor, the reader is confounded by the following elaborately poetic line: “Only the moon, clasping in her blue hands her round, bright, carefree face, wandered like a vagrant outside the window.” At this point, the narrator is already being assailed by a nightmare in which “the Brigade Commander’s head” is pierced by bullets, and “both his eyes” drop to the ground. It is no doubt true that the clasped face of the moon and the...

(The entire section is 427 words.)