Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of the force of this story derives from the characters’ speech. The richly idiomatic language of the immigrant community establishes both Hanneh’s character and her environment. Through the dialogue, the characters paint their self-portraits on a canvas of sound, colored by expressions reflecting their social and ethnic ties. Narration is minimal, and descriptive passages, when they occur, are usually sympathetic to Hanneh’s point of view. For example, the hall-man is described as “frigid with dignity,” supporting Hanneh’s opinion. Thus, through the dialogue and narration, the world that the reader views is Hanneh’s world, rendered in her language.

While the author uses diction to establish character, the story’s structure contributes to its thematic development. Each section is framed by a character’s movement to or from a passageway. The only exception is the section that concentrates on Hanneh’s children. This is significant because the children are attached to this new environment, while Hanneh is not. The movement that either initiates or ends a scene symbolizes the mother’s sense of abandonment. This device is so essential that Yezierska chose to close the story with Hanneh on the threshold; Hanneh’s movement through the doorway is left unfinished, leaving her neither inside nor outside. She remains framed in the reader’s mind in a position symbolizing her inner state. The woman who has traveled from poverty to affluence has yet to arrive at any feeling of belonging. She is suspended as it were, between two worlds, at home in neither one.