Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the narrator is never identified, the story is told from the point of view of someone who is of the same education level as Melvin Combs himself. The opening of the story is typical of the language of the teller: “Melvin Combs, his wife she died. . . . The 2 of them live alone up there. . . . Everybody know them 2 for a long time. Melvin and Maude Combs.” Because of the relatively inarticulate nature of the narrator, most of the sentences are quite short; many begin with the pronoun “He,” simply and straightforwardly describing Melvin’s efforts to get his wife’s body down the hill to the car.

The most important effect of this flat and inarticulate narration is its implication that Melvin is little affected by the death of his wife. Showing no strong reaction of sorrow or sadness, he is seemingly concerned only with the practical matter of getting the body to town. In fact, there is little overt difference between the way that Maude’s death seems to affect Melvin and the way that it affects the undertaker, who is conditioned by his job to thinking only of the practical matters that surround death. The image of Maude, “stiff as a side of beef,” her arms crossed and her eyes slightly open as if watching to see how Melvin is bearing up under it, is a silent comment on his practical and commonsensical efforts. Even the grotesque image of Melvin’s falling on the hill, and the body rolling out of the blanket and left to lie there...

(The entire section is 432 words.)