Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is a psychological sketch of a man who fails to develop and who has replaced action in the world with a compensatory world of recollection and wishes. The form of the story mirrors his state of being. It is a narrative in which nothing happens; there is no climax, and what almost happened has become the object of circular recollection. Apart from the framing scenes in the present, the story is made up of scenes arranged chronologically, but the movement forward that occupies the reader leads to new images and situations that only confirm the initial psychological insights. Peter does not change, nor is he really revealed to the reader more fully. Temporal and spatial displacement are emphasized to heighten the sense of a lost character without any sense of direction.

The story is not an intensive dramatization of this state of being, however, for the narrative voice is a prominent part of the texture of the story. This sardonic voice is counterpointed with the material of Peter’s experience, and the satiric and ironic commentary becomes more engaging than the lives and situations presented to the reader. This commentary joins with key images, such as the ice wagon going down the street, to entertain and challenge the reader intellectually while the realistic detail of Peter’s experience loses dramatic impact. As the character becomes less coherent, the authority of the omniscient narrator becomes more reliable. In this way, the strong voice that might have seemed intrusive establishes itself as the only stable center in a story that lacks the order that has been traditionally guaranteed by plot and character.

The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Canadian Fiction Magazine 28 (1978). Special issue on Mavis Gallant.

Essays in Canadian Writing 42 (Winter, 1990). Special issue on Mavis Gallant.

Gadpaille, Michelle. “Mavis Gallant.” In The Canadian Short Story. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Grant, Judith Skleton. “Mavis Gallant.” In Canadian Writers and Their Works, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley. Toronto: ECW Press, 1989.

Keith, William John. “Mavis Gallant.” In A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.

Kulyk Keefer, Janice. Reading Mavis Gallant. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Schaub, Danielle. Mavis Gallant. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Simmons, Diane. “Remittance Men: Exile and Identity in the Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.” In Canadian Women Writing Fiction, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.

Smythe, Karen. Gallant, Munro, and the Poetics of Elegy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.