Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The strategy for the tale is that of a story within a story. The narrator starts by telling about his own arrival in American territory. He remembers almost exactly the time that his ship dropped anchor in Guam, emphasizing how important this event was for him and how vivid it remains in his memory. He draws the reader’s attention to small details. He remembers the appearances of individuals leaving the ship and the sight of the old Christian bishop on the deck of the ship carrying them into the harbor in Guam. He remembers the sound of splashing water in the showers.

These realistic details give the story its sense of being immediately present in the memory of the teller, but they also help to enable the author to make use of symbolism without reducing the fiction to thin allegory. Although this type of anecdote is common among Vietnamese refugees, “The Key” is also symbolic in character. Võ expresses the movement from the old country to the new and the burden of the memory of the old through the symbols of the shower and the key. A shower is a place in which people attempt to wash off old soil and begin anew. The Pennsylvania shower room in this story is a wet, dark, airtight place, a small chamber similar to a womb. Showering is a kind of new birth.

In the shower, people remove their clothes before they begin to try to cleanse themselves of their pasts. The shower, then, is a place of honesty and of unadorned truth because people who...

(The entire section is 465 words.)