Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unifying force of this story is the narrator’s voice. Her personal voice, however, is not the language of the heart but of the head. Her style, sophisticated, coolly analytical, even cynical, is the manifestation of her conscious denial of the pain of disappointed love. Lessing uses the device of this voice as a controlling metaphor for her character’s detachment from her own grief. The intensely preoccupied tone of the narrator’s self-scrutiny reveals her lack of connection, the emptiness of a quest unfulfilled and unfulfillable, the pain of repeated loss and the undiminished hope that “He might turn out to be the one.” She long has been victim of such women’s magazine phrases, and, like Anna Wulf in The Golden Notebook (1962), the narrator has been a woman “who cannot feel deeply about anything.” After encountering her two serious loves on the same day, her conventional behavior patterns, including her habitual return to the search for serious love represented by the date with C, crumble under a torrent of new self-awareness.

The appearance of her heart in her hand is a symbol with many valences. It is an ironic literalization of the cliché of losing one’s heart or approaching another with one’s heart in one’s hand. The exteriorization of her heart is also a surreal representation of her moment of psychic upheaval, her revolution in attitude toward love, which leads to a new state of freedom. Her conscious self, embodied in her narrative voice, confronts her unconscious, suppressed pain in the depths of the London underground. Her live, clinging heart wrapped in silver becomes a stylized gift of love to herself. Offered and accepted, it represents an integration of her conscious and unconscious selves and her entry into a new personal realm of freedom.

Like so many of Lessing’s characters, this narrator is absorbed in reflection on her aloneness in a journey where loves are not ends but rather way stations. She recounts an experience in which she makes herself, her actions, and her feelings visible to herself. In giving her heart away, she does not die but is reborn in acceptance of and freedom from her own disappointments in romantic love.