The form of In Our Time defies precise description, and critics have long expressed divergent views: Is this just a collection of short stories? Or is it a more or less tightly woven story-cycle? Or is it really an experimental novel whose form reflects the typical technical and stylistic concerns of the high tide of modernism in the 1920s? It would seem that the latter view — even if the debate is unlikely to be resolved to the satisfaction of all readers — holds the greatest promise for deeper understanding of the form, style, and techniques of In Our Time.
The problem of defining the book's form is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that certain stories — or, in the modernist view, chapters of this experimental novel — have been extracted from their context and so frequently anthologized that they seem to stand alone and have acquired reputations as great short stories; for example, "Indian Camp" and "Big Two-Hearted River." However, while these may to some degree work as short stories, it is clear that our engagement with them is much richer when they are viewed in the contexts of the complete In Our Time, Consider what the reader brings to "Big Two-Hearted River" if he or she has followed Nick's process of growing up, of being wounded in the war, and so on — matters that the reader of the story alone would know nothing about. Clearly, without the novelistic contexts of Nick's bildungsroman, the depth or understanding of each and every story or chapter of In Our Time is radically diminished. This is the most telling argument for the work's unity, and for its status as a modernist experimental novel.
Modernist works typically employ techniques of understatement, omission of crucial facts and connections, elimination of explanatory linkage between segments or episodes, strategies of ironic juxtaposition and...
(The entire section is 767 words.)