Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bowles has written that as he was reading a collection of translations of Native American texts, a desire came over him to create his own myths, composed from the point of view of a primitive, nonliterate mind. He wrote “The Scorpion,” the most tangible result of his experiments, with no conscious control. According to Bowles’s account, he simply recorded the words that came into his mind, allowing his subconscious free rein. These facts about its origin account in large part for the story’s compelling symbolic content.

Bowles records his story with fablelike simplicity. His language is flat and unadorned, his sentence structure straightforward. Although one may sense significant psychological complexity beneath the story’s surface, its characters and situations are presented in the simplest possible terms with the least possible elaboration. The reader is scarcely aware that a story is being told. As a result of this technique, “The Scorpion” seems, and indeed is, timeless. Its opening words, “An old woman lived in a cave,” recall various fairy tales and such Mother Goose rhymes as “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.” These associations remove it from the world of the individual writer and place it in a universal context accessible, at least on a symbolic level, to every reader. They also serve to render the central episode of the scorpion even more disquieting.

In recording the genesis of “The Scorpion,” Bowles has remarked that he initially hesitated to write fiction because he did not feel that he understood life. The techniques he employed in this story—the automatic writing with no conscious control, the adoption of the primitive point of view—were so successful that he continued producing short stories, most of which are set in Central America, North Africa, and South Asia. He has been recognized as one of the masters of the form in the twentieth century.

The Scorpion Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bertens, Johannes Willem. The Fiction of Paul Bowles: The Soul Is the Weariest Part of the Body. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Humanities Press, 1979.

Caponi, Gena Dagel. Paul Bowles. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Carr, Virginia Spencer. Paul Bowles: A Life. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Miller, Jeffrey. Paul Bowles: A Descriptive Bibliography. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1986.

Pounds, Wayne. Paul Bowles: The Inner Geography. Berne, Switzerland: Lang, 1985.

Review of Contemporary Fiction 2 (1982). Special Bowles issue.

Sawyer-Laucanno, Christopher. “An Invisible Spectator.” Twentieth Century Literature 32 (Fall/Winter, 1986): 259-299.

Stewart, Lawrence D. Paul Bowles: The Illumination of North Africa. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1974.