Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

There is considerable ambiguity in the telling of “The Happy Autumn Fields,” made possible by the use of an omniscient narrator. Had the story been told in Mary’s voice, the details about Sarah’s family would have been solidified by Mary’s interpretation and the ambiguity lost. The omniscient narrator, however, instead of explaining overtly, drops hints from which the reader may draw interpretations—sometimes slightly differing ones.

The most cogent example is the final question and its possible connection with the flying flag of Henrietta’s white handkerchief. The latter is mentioned once a fourth of the way into the story and alluded to once again; yet in the last lines, in another place and time and a different context, the reader may remember it and may remember Henrietta’s determination never to lose her sister.

The most all-encompassing example involves Mary’s consciousness. The narrator never says explicitly how Mary came to know Sarah’s family—whether the detailed impressions of the Victorian afternoon are dreams or imaginative waking reconstructions. Both times when the story shifts to Mary, there are hints that she has wakened from sleep, but she might well have been seeking refuge in daydreams of happy autumn fields. Similarly, the box of letters and pictures is never explained; the reader may assume that it was shaken out of the house’s walls or closets by an explosion, but how it came to London and to...

(The entire section is 460 words.)