Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The power and success of this story can in part be attributed to the strictly controlled viewpoint of the heroine. Although the story is told in the third person, the author switches to internal monologue at times, so that the reader is privy to Inez’s most secret thoughts. This internal monologue is sometimes indicated by italics, sometimes by parentheses; sometimes it is not marked at all.

Description is minimal and usually seen through Inez’s eyes. Because she is in an extreme state of mind, the descriptions are sometimes distorted, which gives them a psychological, if not objective, reality. At one point, for example, the ward is described as “a long, grey river; the beds were ships in a mist.”

Characters reveal themselves primarily through dialogue, of which there is a large amount, and it is in their comments about one another that they give themselves away. The character of the suicidal Mrs. Murphy is skillfully used to reflect Inez’s own state of mind, adding tension to the story.

In addition to the major symbol of the machine, a gold ring carved with two roses worn by Madame Tavernier achieves symbolic significance. The ring fascinates Inez, and she dwells on it each time she looks at, or thinks about, the old lady. It is noted that the petals of the two roses are touching, which perhaps indicates the ability of kindly Madame Tavernier to touch the lives of others.

Irony is important in the story, primarily in the difference between the viewpoints of those inside and those outside the machine. All these stylistic techniques work together to enhance the story’s meaning.