Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The centered consciousness of this story is that of Jane, a young wife in a midwestern American city who is having difficulty adjusting to her role and her future with her husband. The reader learns only what Jane sees and hears, thinks and feels. The language, dialogue, and description are consistent with her character and point of view, suggesting at one level the mundane reality of her life as well as that of her husband and friends.

Little information is given about the setting. It takes place in an anonymous midwestern American city, which is not described or characterized in any significant way, except for the storm that shatters the evening calm. Scenes unfold in a bedroom, a bathroom, a café, and a fire station, but these also are left largely as blanks. So there is nothing to divert the reader’s attention away from the central drama of Jane’s interior life and discovery of her love for her husband, a discovery that equally surprises her and the reader.

The success of the story depends on the fact that the author has so thoroughly prepared readers for this discovery. The time involved from beginning to end is quite short, approximately forty-eight hours. However, within that time frame, there are a number of cycles of waking and sleeping, conveying a sense of conscious activity followed by subconscious activity. Also, the characters alternate between talk about the everyday and talk about their dreams, the latter indicating to themselves and to the reader the deep psychological currents in their lives. Then tragedy suddenly interrupts the flow of ordinary events, shocking the mind and heart into a new awareness. In addition, Jane’s interior monologues, in which she probes deeper and deeper into herself, lead to her discovery of her profound love for her husband at the end.

The generalized setting, the dialogue shifting between surface experience and dreams, and the series of interior monologues take the reader surely and yet surprisingly to a profoundly moving and convincing resolution. The game of Risk that the characters are playing at the opening, in which pretend armies contest for the world, takes on a metaphorical weight at the end when death, loss, and love are recognized as the stakes involved in these ordinary lives.