Don't Call Me by My Right Name Analysis

James Purdy

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this brief, tightly constructed story, Purdy relies heavily on dialogue to create the almost painful tension of the encounter between husband and wife. The dialogue draws its power from its realistic tone and the use of repetition to create an effect related to the use of musical motifs. One distinguishing quality of Purdy’s fiction is the conciseness of his language, the use of a few words to speak volumes about convoluted human relationships. The use of the limited omniscient viewpoint enables the reader to enter the consciousness of both Lois and Frank, and thus stresses the degree to which this husband and wife are strangers, each unaware of the other’s feelings. The consciousness of the witnesses is also incorporated into the story, again to stress the limitations of human understanding in viewing conversations, arguments, and other encounters between people we do not know. Through the eyes of unnamed observers, one sees Lois, fat, aging, drunk, somewhat ludicrous to outsiders who know nothing of her feelings. One’s awareness of her view, however, neutralizes the negative portrayal and humanizes her.

Purdy effectively uses atmosphere in this story to underscore the irony of the story. The time is Halloween, the setting a party at which most of the people do not know each other—in short, a tension-filled gathering. Although the symbolism is limited, the name “Klein” takes on figurative implications through its meaning and Lois’s reaction to it, and the costumed children, curious as to what is happening in the adult encounter they observe between husband and wife, represent a grotesque metaphor for lack of human perception. In story after story, Purdy peels back the surface of seemingly ordinary events—in this instance a married couple talking to each other at a party—to reveal the grotesque and horrible truths of human relationships often lurking just beneath the surface of the seemingly ordinary.