Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The incident recounted in the first person by the narrator is a formative, even defining experience in his adolescence recalled from the vantage point of the mature adult. The style is colloquial, witty, exuberant, and darkly ironic. The narrator moves effortlessly back and forth from sharply visualized scenes of the city, to humorous portrayals of adolescent longing and lust, to philosophical musing of considerable depth. The voice suggests a person of great wit, vitality, and intelligence, with a highly idiosyncratic view of the world, a person who finds speculative matter in unusual places.

At the beginning, the story is straightforward and realistic in setting, character, and mood. The narrator, recalling the energy and curiosity of adolescence, tells of eager trips by subway to exciting places that would attract most young people in search of adventure. With the next phase, and its focus on moral and psychological growth, the story becomes allusive to biblical, mythological, and psychological narratives.

The description of the rabbi and his wife makes them seem more like archetypes than particular individuals—a satyr and a nymph, or Adam and Eve, perhaps. The coupling itself is referred to as the primal scene. The watching boys are described as bathed in light, hovering in the air like angels beholding the couple as they make love. Once again the story of Adam and Eve is suggested. The fall of Arnold, who initiated the adventure, has overtones of Lucifer’s fall from heaven, in view of the earlier reference to angels. The boys descent from the pinnacle of their building with its magnificent view of the city, along with their subsequent exile to the military-like camp, has overtones of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The story does not systematically employ symbolism; rather it teases the reader with allusions to well-known biblical, mythical, or psychological narratives to signal its movement from straightforward adventure into more complex realms of psychological and moral discovery. The result is a sense that the experience the narrator is recalling is unique, even highly idiosyncratic in its details, while also being universal in its implications. In other words, it is an archetypal coming-of-age story of an adolescent’s growth from innocence to experience.