Ghost and Flesh, Water and Dirt Analysis

William Goyen

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Goyen’s style and technique are unique and highly personal. His stories typically are told by the narrator and are best understood when read aloud. They do not have plots in the conventional sense but are concerned rather with the creation of a mood or the evocation of a mysterious feeling of kinship with the teller. “Ghost and Flesh, Water and Dirt” consists entirely of a monologue by Margy Emmons with two brief italicized passages in the beginning when she speaks only to herself. Margy begins and ends with a vision of “pore Raymon Emmons,” and she will no doubt tell this same story when her “time a tellin” comes again. The listener and the reader cannot help being riveted by this strange tale of lovers and ghosts and are left, if not convinced by Margy’s ideas, at least moved by and sympathetic to her humanity.

The lyric quality of Goyen’s prose, the recurrence of certain key phrases, and the circular movement of the story call to mind the folk ballad. Indeed, many of his stories are similar in content and quality to folk song; they come from and are about common folk, and they are told in the words of ordinary people. Goyen is a master storyteller with a rare gift for turning everyday language into poetry.