Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Targan uses time itself to frame the episodes of “Old Vemish”—namely, the schedule of the cruise ship. This schedule provides the conflict that rages through the plot. Vemish upsets Booth’s and the captain’s schedule. He (and subsequently many of the other passengers) does not return to the ship when he is supposed to return. Even in following Booth’s schedule, Vemish injects chaos into it—turning the deck games into an intense competition and the leisure hours after dinner near the end into a drunken bash. In fact, the ship’s sailing schedule is finally thrown off completely because of Vemish. This use of time as an organizing factor in the plot is meant to dramatize the issue of time itself.

Another technique in the story is the use of the ship and the sea as symbols, and yet another is the use of the motif of illness. The ship represents human life, and the sea, the unpredictable and chaotic forces that inform life in general. Human life is controlled in the end by these larger forces, and to be in league with them in the form of independence and passion is the lesson that Vemish portrays. There is a good and a bad kind of illness in the story. The good kind is natural: It is, like old age, the result of living itself, especially of passionate living. The bad kind is spiritual, in that it inclines the old to take their frailty seriously, so that they become overcautious and allow others to push them around. In Clifton Booth’s case,...

(The entire section is 412 words.)