Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This is a tale rather than a story. There is no dialogue; no one speaks to the reader but the narrator, who spins the yarn and asks the questions of interpretation at the end. He knows the story, but one senses that he does not have omniscience, that he is not there himself. He knows more than the populace and king, yet he does not know and will not reveal the outcome. That seems unfair—he leaves his readers dangling—but that is his purpose from the beginning. The story is a tour de force, hinging on a gimmick. What is annoying is that the narrator seems to know the ending but will not tell it.
However, the tale may be saved for the reader by the distance the author keeps from his material and the atmosphere of mystery that he maintains. He has heard the story, and it has amazed him with its mixture of the humane and the barbaric. If the plot is a teaser, are its psychological concerns also? In not letting the characters speak, in not even naming them, and in having their motivations generalized, the author approaches allegory—the allegory of logical human emotions. He turns the tale into a matter of “what would you do?” He turns outward from the story to the reader directly, thus placing emphasis on theme rather than on plot.
In not deeply developing his characters, holding them at arm’s length, he has made it impossible for one to know what they will do. One is told their motivations in general terms, but one does not experience the characters having them: One does not hear their words or glimpse their...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
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