Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In his 1952 commentary on “Father and I,” Arne Häggqvist says that Lagerkvist has “here composed one of his finest autobiographical sketches, realistically suggestive and, at the same time, acutely symbolical.” This observation about Lagerkvist’s style applies as well to all of Lagerkvist’s later fiction, in which labyrinthine allegory assumes a surface of lyrical but simple narrative. By the early 1920’s, Lagerkvist had fully abandoned his early expressionistic style, with its exclamatory color, in favor of a style governed by the subtle multiperspectivity of cubism.

The narration of “Father and I” is in the cubistic mode. Concretions in the first half of the story—such as the passing train, telegraph poles, and the rushing stream—are reconstituted and reconfigured in the second half, in the manner of segments of planes redisposed on a cubist canvas. The combined perspectives of day and night are interspatial with the combined perspectives of the thirty-year-old narrator and the child that he was at nine. The reactions of the child are genuinely those of a nine-year-old, and they are imperceptibly, almost indistinguishably, deepened by the symbolic content of the mature narrator’s recollections. For example, after the black train is engorged by the night, the father puzzles over the strange train and the strange engineer, while the son has a presentiment of its significance and a sense that it was for his sake that the train roared past them: Speaking as narrator about his boyhood experience, he interprets that experience retrospectively as an anticipation of the anguish that he would much later articulate in this autobiographical depiction.