Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the techniques that Steele uses throughout this well-constructed narrative is making the proper names of the major characters contribute to a deeper understanding of both their characters and their plights. The Doggett family leads a life that shares characteristics with the animals they care for as they pursue, doggedly, their rather brutal lives on a rural farm. Although Ruby Herter does not directly hurt Mare, his behavior toward her is little better than his treatment of other farm animals. After Humble Jewett connects Mare to the highly romanticized Amarantha in the Lovelace poem, she identifies with her actual name, Amarantha. Once Jewett mythologizes such common names and highly romantic lines of poetry from Lovelace and the Old Testament, Mare begins to understand her life in larger perspectives: She sees what she is not, as well as what she has missed and can never have. Steele’s technique of constantly repeating these lines and interweaving them in the text enables them to resonate with greater significance each time they appear. The reader experiences with Mare the painful process of transformation that she undergoes.

The line that Mare repeats as the story concludes, “Is it only crazy folks ever say such things?” cannot be answered, and that knowledge is what causes Mare to reject everyone, even her fiancé, with the concluding, recurring line: “Go ’way! Go ’way! Lea’ me be!” Although Humble Jewett is quite mad, he has taught Mare a terrible lesson—that she will never be able to enter the world of grace and loveliness that these glorious lines express and embody.