Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Diane Oliver’s style is simple and restrained, illustrating through the perceptions of Ellie Mitchell the real conflicts in one town at one time in history. Because the story contrasts the public issues with the private reactions of those people involved with the issues, Oliver sets up a pattern of objects that Ellie notices, some of which are familiar and safe, others of which are related to a new time for her family, a time of fear. By juxtaposing the images of everyday security and those of unusual danger, Oliver suggests the nightmare in which the family is involved.

For example, Ellie cannot keep her mind on the clothes in the store windows because of her apprehensions. Just as she has been glancing at the raincoat, the man in the Chevrolet assures her of his willingness to take violent action. Helping her friend Saraline to sneak out on a date, Ellie is reminded of the crisis by crossed fingers. On the familiar street, where Mr. Paul sits as usual, she is told that the whites may spit on her brother.

At Ellie’s house, the familiar is once again juxtaposed to the unfamiliar. The geranium pot, the familiar sofa, a pitcher of ice water—all are everyday images, contrasting with the route plan on paper on which the men are working. The kitchen, the yellow sun on the wall, her mother peeling potatoes—all point up the horror of the threatening envelopes. However, although the evidences of the outside ugliness have penetrated the Mitchell home, it still seems a safe place until the bomb blast, which proves that geraniums, freshly ironed clothes, and Uncle Wiggily are all vulnerable. When the living-room window is shattered, the geranium pot broken, Ellie knows that the objects of everyday life can be destroyed, and so can the small boy.

At the end of the story, the fight is abandoned so that Tommy and the symbols of security can survive. Mrs. Mitchell begins to get breakfast and to straighten the kitchen. The table, the clock, the dishes, the oatmeal—all these objects are meant to reestablish the illusion of security that was shattered when the bomb exploded, though no one in the Mitchell family will now take the same comfort as before in those familiar objects. When they broke, a world shattered.