Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Hall’s refusal to give his characters names universalizes them and keeps them at a distance that avoids sentimentality. This point is made deliberately when in their last moments the boy refers to the dog only as “the pooch,” and the fisherman realizes that he would have wept at the use of a familiar, personal name. Fathers and sons, husbands and wives, fishermen’s sons and farmers’ sons—these relationships show up in familiar archetypes in “The Ledge.”

The story shows an easy familiarity with the vocabularies of coastal island life and the artifacts of that existence: yellow oilskins, outboards, skiffs, tollers (to bring in the ducks), and shotguns, as well as weather phenomena and physical features of the land and sea. In this respect, the story has all the density of detail expected of the best realistic fiction.

This tale of men against the sea follows a conventional narrative pattern. The fisherman wakes before dawn and the third-person narrator sketches his character and reveals how he is seen by others, especially by his wife. He goes about his business frying bacon, and then he and the boys take the skiff to the boat and then on to the ledge. The middle section follows the three through their successful hunt and to the discovery that the skiff has drifted away. In the powerful denouement, they brace themselves for their fate and die one by one. The story moves relentlessly to its end with no adornment and no sentimentality, and in doing so it achieves a genuine catharsis.