Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story is the “slice of life” type. It is a series of word-photographs that readers must interpret for themselves. The author sets the stage very precisely with a few pertinent, evocative descriptions of the road, the characters, the sitting room, and the kitchen. He tells the reader very little about the four young men: Bert daydreams of girls, Ted tires the fastest, Harry plots the routes of their expeditions to gratify his interest in Roman roads, and Sid is dark and lanky with a high forehead and a Hitler mustache. He is a cocksure man with a gentle voice. The woman is frail and nervous. Her child resembles her.

Pritchett does not tell what his characters are thinking or feeling; this must be gathered from their conversations and actions. He has an acute ear for how people speak. His early life in trade equipped him for imitating the exact speech of the lower-middle-class section of English society. His keen perception of people’s motives and reactions allows him to put revealing remarks into the mouths of his characters. In a 1980 essay, Pritchett says that he was accustomed to boil down one hundred pages to twenty or thirty. Thus, he leaves only the most distinctive and typical speeches. This is not to say that the characters are one-dimensional: Sid, for example, is a complicated, contradictory sort of person. He appears both gentle and ruthless. “Many Are Disappointed” is a fine example of naturalism by a master craftsman.