Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The senex amans pattern mentioned earlier is generally a comic one; indeed, with merely a few twists of the plot “Death of a Huntsman” could have been comic. Even before the situation begins to sour, however, the reader knows that events are moving toward tragedy, not comedy, because of a rich pattern of foreshadowing—perhaps the most interesting technical feature of this otherwise simple story.

The most obvious example of foreshadowing, one that hardly warrants analysis, is the title. Subtler examples, however, follow. It is the nature of foreshadowing that any one instance taken in isolation might seem insignificant, but repeated instances affect the tone of the story and the reader’s expectations. In the first scene of “Death of a Huntsman,” for example, Harry’s fellow commuters gleefully anticipate Harry’s nightly “race with time.” No special significance seems implied by the phrase at this point. (Even here, however, the thoughtful reader might ask himself, “Who ever wins, ultimately, the race against time?”) When the reader is told a page later that sometimes before Harry arrived “a final door would slam with doom,” the implications become much more pointed.

The most obvious example of foreshadowing involves one last fruit of a quince tree, which both Valerie and Harry take as a symbol of their love. At the climax of their happiest moment together, the quince falls with a thud. The idyllic mood is broken. Immediately thereafter, Valerie reminds Harry that tomorrow is the night of the Hunt Ball and that he must dance with her. The scene ends with Valerie humming a tune in anticipation of the dance, but for Harry, “he remembered the sound of the quince dropping into the reeds, the last vanishing phial of the summer’s honey, filling his mind like an ominous echo.”

In the last brutal exchange between Harry and Edna in the car, “ominous” is turning to “fatal” when, to Harry, Edna’s drawn face seems “skeletonized,” her mouth “almost cadaverous.” Ironically, it is blind, foolish Harry who is about to die.