Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Most of the force of “Laura” is generated by its style, and especially by the sardonic tone of its privileged speakers, Laura and the narrator. Both exploit a deliberately inappropriate ceremoniousness of phrase. “I have the doctor’s permission to live till Tuesday,” says Laura, implying that survival until Wednesday would be a breach of etiquette. “As a matter of fact Laura died on Monday,” reports the narrator, with equal calm. Laura also repeatedly demonstrates a sort of literal-mindedness that challenges the unstated ethics of English conversation. “How could you?” asks Amanda when Laura confesses setting all of Egbert’s hens loose—and by this Amanda means, evidently, “How could you be so irresponsible?” Laura, however, chooses to take the question as a mere “matter of fact,” like her own death, and answers that it was easy. In the same way, when Amanda says “today is Saturday; this is serious,” she clearly means, again implicitly, that what is serious is the fact that Laura has only three days to live. However, Laura again takes the statement only at face value, as if what is serious is today being Saturday. Both exchanges, tiny in themselves, nevertheless reinforce the story’s basic point that moral responsibility is no virtue and that being serious does no one any good.

Other devices within the story include the narrator’s repeated indications that the moral attitudes of his orthodox characters are...

(The entire section is 430 words.)