Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told in a steadfastly laconic manner, the narrator remaining bogged down in a kind of emotional torpor until the final moment of private revelation that he experiences when he fails to complete his rendition of the Bach sonata. The opening incident, which describes the phases of the narrator’s understated experiment in bondage, sets this tone very neatly. The subsequent descriptions of the narrator’s impressions of the beach scene and Terence’s account of Sylvie’s cruel exploitation of his excessively romantic offer maintain the same underlying note while carefully elaborating the theme.

The eventual summation of this whole enterprise is the deliberately anticlimactic episode in which Terence aims the gun at George and pulls the trigger. Even though George is the only one who had noticed that Terence had removed the bullets from the gun, neither Mary nor the narrator is aroused to violent anxiety by this apparent assassination attempt. Indeed, the conversation thereafter flows more easily and more politely than before, unpunctuated by any tangible melodramatic alarm. The story does not end with this incident, because the whole point of undermining its climactic status so drastically is to stress that there is no possibility of ending an account of this sort with a bang or even a perceptible whimper.

As the title of the story indicates, the real “central character” of the story is its setting, not its nameless narrator....

(The entire section is 488 words.)