Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the creation of his character Shan, Stuart uses psychological realism to elevate this coming-of-age story above its ancestor, the heroic boast. The narrator’s inability to speak of what he has learned from watching the faces of his neighbors and hearing their laughter is much more true to life than anything Shan might have thought to say about what he has witnessed. Shan resists the lesson he has learned at the end of his day of snake killing: that love is more powerful, more compelling, more appealing to humankind than hate, revenge, and death. The boy is really not quite as puzzled as he seems; he simply refuses to believe what his elders tell him about what the snakes are doing, but in his heart he knows that they are right. Stuart’s delicate handling of this matter raises Shan above the level of the stereotypical youngster, giving his central character the depth and dimension necessary to make a story of this complexity and delicacy believable.

A further example of Stuart’s psychological realism occurs in the beginning and middle portions of the story. Shan repeats three times that a snake bit his friend, but none will bite him. The reader knows full well that the boy is in danger, and this is one of the main reasons that he or she continues to read further—to find out whether Shan will actually escape harm. Through repetition, the author both shows his main character’s fear and endows him with a very human characteristic, the ability to hold a belief in spite of what one really knows to be the case. This complex structuring of character easily eludes the careless reader, but for those who read Stuart’s story deeply, such craftsmanship serves both as preparation for the ending and as a guide to the understanding of human ways of thought.