Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator is both comic and pathetic in his attempts to escape the obligations of mechanistic systems. Dixon intermittently places comic voices in the middle of potentially tragic scenes. After the narrator throws his watch out the window, the man behind him on the bus asks: “Why don’t you just pass it on back here?” Earlier, the narrator himself acts as a ventriloquist in trying to get the bus driver to continue the trip, claiming that “your slowpokey driving and intermittent dawdling has already made me ten minutes late.” Just as the narrator is deciding to get rid of his socks, Laslo attempts to get him to stop: “’Leave them on,’ Laslo says, ’They look good and I like brown.’” Although the scene in which the narrator begins to throw his clothing out of the bus window is comic, it is also heartrending because the grieving husband cannot bear to touch anything that reminds him of his beloved wife.

The most compelling technique used in this disturbing story is that Dixon begins it at the end. Few writers bother to think about the bureaucratic system that takes place after the beloved is dead, when the narrator declares he is alone and leaves the hospital. Dixon’s postmodernist imagination always probes into what is absent—what other writers overlook. His technique generates the action in the story, which consists of a man’s desperate attempts at closure.

As often happens in Dixon’s stories, the protagonist is trapped in a bureaucratic system that, when resisted, produces even more complications and predicaments. Because he refuses to sign a legal document, he precipitates a series of quasi-slapstick actions that end in his forced signature; he is completely denied his freedom to the one thing that makes him unique: his own name. Dixon begins and concludes the story with the central issue—a man’s signature, that which gives him his legal and philosophical identity. It is the final tragedy of the story that he loses not only his wife but also his identity and his dignity.