Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A realist in style, despite receiving early training in the modernist school, Quiroga is preoccupied with the human situation and state of mind, death, and suicide. He describes his ideas on literary theory in his brief “Manual of the Perfect Short Story Writer” (1925), in which he praises such predecessors as Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Rudyard Kipling, and Anton Chekhov. In this essay, he stresses the importance of originality, dedication, control, brevity, and precision in writing. Some repetition can heighten effect.

These elements can all be found in “The Dead Man,” with its creation of atmosphere through controlled emotional intensity. The structure is tight and precise; the tone is direct, natural, and matter-of-fact. Subtle changes in the man’s condition are suggested or implied. Although he knows he is dying, he momentarily lapses into planning for future work on his farm. There is irony in the fact that he is suddenly facing death on an otherwise ordinary day. The reader has the dying man’s perspective of events throughout the piece, until the shift in the last paragraph. By then, the protagonist has become “The Dead Man”—and his horse, now less cautious, finally reacts by moving.

Elements of adventure, horror, mystery, and psychological and social realism often appear in Quiroga’s stories. “The Dead Man” stresses the latter two aspects with considerable skill. Although his reputation was strong earlier in the twentieth century, Quiroga’s fame was eclipsed by that of later writers, notably that of Jorge Luis Borges. There has been renewed interest in Quiroga’s writing, however, and in the influence he had on recent authors. He is widely respected as a master craftsman who created memorable stories that linger in the reader’s consciousness.