Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Language is one of the brightest attractions of this story. The narrator immediately declares language to be important when she explains that the phrase “going to bed” with someone is so “cute” and “euphemistic” that it demands a “schoolgirlish and ungrammatical” phrasing instead of anything so proper as “with whom I went to bed.” This concern carries throughout the story. The narrator chirps on in the idioms of her class and rank—Ivy League seminar-givers—and the language flows. When Eric first puts his hand on her leg and propositions her, she describes her “okay” as “appropriately nonchalant.” This observation about her own behavior typifies the narrator’s cool self-awareness throughout her relationship with Eric. She tosses off easy inventions such as “give-a-seminar outfit,” and she knows just how to catch a nuanced word with quotation marks.

The narrator has a sharp eye. Details of dress both reveal their social levels and emphasize their professional rank: Eric’s ragged cuffs would mean one thing at a construction site but they signify something else in a Harvard seminar room. In her accounts of the bedroom interludes, she offers no salacious details of their lovemaking, but she speaks unselfconsciously of their desire and their pleasure. She says at one point that “he could indeed get it up,” and when he turns out to be slow at the finish line she remarks with characteristic dry wit: “But I kept my eye wide open; it is very bad manners to fall asleep in such a situation.” This sophisticated voice well suits a parable of the sexual revolution.