Kill Day on the Government Wharf Analysis

Audrey Thomas

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beginning with breakfast and ending in sleep, the story moves from surfaces to depths in its portrayal of the main character. It opens with a conversation between a husband and wife that is entirely natural and realistic. The reader sees and hears a young couple who obviously love each other and are somewhat amused by how differently they are responding to their rustic environment. The opening scene is so dramatic and realistic that the reader hardly notices the few authorial glimpses into each character’s mind or the stage-setting comments that indicate time and place.

When Tom leaves to go fishing, the narrative focuses on the wife’s thoughts and feelings as she goes about her routine activities for the day. The transition to her interior state of mind is smooth and deepens the reader’s interest in her. It provides crucial insight into the depth of feeling that underlies her earlier comments to her husband about city and country life. The reader recognizes that despite the wife’s doubts, her attraction to the elemental in her surroundings is genuine and deep.

The excursion to the government wharf on kill day focuses predominantly on the wife’s physical and psychological reactions to the scene unfolding before her. Initially disoriented by the sights, sounds, and smells of kill day on the wharf, the wife soon feels like a participant in the ritual, responding deeply and positively to its assertion of the elemental connection of life with death. Returning to the cottage, she is in a dreamlike state.

When the young man comes to her cottage and asks to use the telephone, the wife seems almost hypnotized by his sudden presence, and by the aura of masculinity and primal energy that envelopes him. She seems to be carried along by profound psychological and emotional currents into a ritualistic demonstration of her embrace of the elemental. Symbolically, with the young man’s blood, she links herself with his world, so much closer to the rhythms of nature than the world of the city. That all this occurs on a Sunday subtly reinforces the ritualistic aspect of the wife’s action.