Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Anatole France is well known for his style, a sense of language touched with irony at all the foibles of humankind. In “The Procurator of Judea” he achieves his purpose of undermining the religious assumptions of his contemporaries through a subtle form of misdirection that enables him to present a surprise ironic ending. Readers will quickly recognize the name of his principal character, Pontius Pilate—the biblical figure notorious for overseeing the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. They cannot, however, know what later became of Pilate. France adds to this difficulty by obscuring the narrative’s historical framework when he hides the identity of the reigning Roman emperor, Caligula, behind his less well-known name, Caius. This device helps to give readers pause about Pilate’s identity, ensuring that the story’s ending catches them by surprise. The surprise ending, in turn, reinforces the supreme irony that the person responsible for perhaps the most significant event in history is not even aware that he is associated with it.