Style and Technique
Aiken’s story relies on both literary and psychological symbolism. By forcing the reader to adopt Paul’s point of view, Aiken encourages his audience to identify with the boy, who seems locked in conflict with his father in a classical Oedipal situation. Paul mentions his conflict with his father and mother, but he only speaks of talking with his mother. When the examination (the “inquisition” as seen by Paul) occurs, Paul hears his father’s soft and cold voice of “silken warning”; later, Paul hears the “resonant and cruel” punishment voice. In fact, Paul cannot meet his father’s gaze, for he sees only his father’s brown slippers, which come closer and closer.
Not only does the reader adopt Paul’s perspective (the examination is an “inquisition” and a “cross-examination,” both of which imply Paul as persecuted victim), but also the reader shares Paul’s thoughts as Aiken moves from third-person limited point of view to an even more intimate stream-of-consciousness narration. As a result, Paul’s interpretation of the events seems so convincing that a concerned mother’s visit becomes an invasion by an “alien,” that a cruel “I hate you!” becomes an exorcising phrase. (The references to “exorcism” and “inquisition” suggest that Paul’s world has become a religion for him.)
Aiken’s style also involves the use of imagery that suggests corruption and the failure of relationships. As he walks...
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