Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Writers are often concerned with the problem of hope in their stories, for although they are aware of the inevitability of plot, they also want to convey a sense of freedom in their characters. In one of her best-known stories, “Conversation with My Father” (1971), for example, Grace Paley rebels against the inevitability of plot because it vanquishes hope. A basic difference between real life and fiction, Paley suggests, is that real life is open and full of possibility, but a story must move relentlessly toward a predetermined end. Consequently, as much as writers might want their fiction to be “like life,” it can never quite be a similitude of life. The closest that a writer can approach to feeling this sense of similitude is when fictional characters are so fully realized that they seem to take on lives of their own and somehow “get away” from their author. “On Hope” is a self-reflexive fable that, like many of the stories of John Barth and Robert Coover, uses the traditional fable form to explore and lay bare the fictional conventions and techniques that writers always use and readers often take for granted. Holst makes no attempt to interest the reader in the character of the gypsy. The gypsy’s motivation is determined by the stereotyped conventions of “gypsyness,” not by any values particular to himself. The gypsy’s belief in the curse, as well as his conclusion that the monkey’s theft of the diamond three times is determined by fate,...

(The entire section is 527 words.)