Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An external voice narrates “Ivy Gripped the Steps”; the voice speaks of Gavin Doddington, as well as all the other characters, in the third person. However, the narrative stance emphasizes Doddington as the protagonist because no information given in the story is foreign to him: The description of the ivy-choked house is given to the reader as Doddington looks at it, the long flashback section is presumably a memory of Doddington, and the scene outside the Concannons’ home centers on Doddington. Although he does not narrate the story technically, his experience controls the narration. As an eight-or ten-year-old, he is not sophisticated enough to understand the full reality of his experience with Mrs. Nicholson, but as an adult he is: He knows that he is alone and restive at Southstone with his memory. His feelings of love, devastated at an early age, have never recovered.

Bowen begins early to establish the tone of her story through her diction. Ivy-covered houses, frequently considered stately and prestigious, are shown capable of carrying negative connotations. In the title and in the first three paragraphs of the story, the diction suggests that the ivy is a destructive image: “Gripped,” “sucked,” “deceptive,” “matted,” “amassed,” “consumed,” “brutal,” “strangulation.” The ivy that gripped the house has taken it over and made it grotesque. All other places in the story where the word “gripped” is used also...

(The entire section is 507 words.)