Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Aiken uses the third-person point of view in “The Dark City” and uses Andrew as the “central intelligence” through whom the events are screened. That literary device enables readers to understand Andrew thoroughly, for readers share his thoughts through the stream-of-consciousness technique. To indicate Andrew’s delicate balancing act, Aiken also distances himself from his protagonist and under the guise of objective description reveals the contradictions within Andrew. For example, reading a newspaper should relax Andrew, thereby allowing him to escape from the bustle of the city, but Aiken’s diction implies that even a sedentary activity involves repressed aggression for Andrew.

Aiken has Andrew “devour” with “rapacious eyes” the newspaper, and the activity “consumes” time—the imagery would be more appropriate in financial situations in the city. In his refuge at home, replies become “missiles,” a metaphor readers may regard as part of Andrew’s “comic rage,” but that “rage” is not altogether “comic.” Even the setting sun assumes destructive force: “The red sun . . . was gashing itself cruelly on a black pine tree.” When he returns from his evening walk, Andrew says, “He had no watch, and his trousers grew like grass,” an enigmatic and apparently innocuous comment, but in its allusion to the watch, the object of earlier musings, and to the lost trousers, the comment serves to tie up loose ends for Andrew, who needs to retain his “grip” in a situation that is steadily deteriorating. In a very real sense, Aiken’s protagonist is a symbol for modern man.