Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dawson employs a number of linguistic and painterlike methods in this highly compelling portrait. One critic identifies subject matter with method in this piece and calls it “a process parable.” Because Dawson comes out of both a literary and an artistic tradition that refuses to separate form from content, that designation seems apt. Because there is no plot in this sketch, certain recurring motifs give form and structure to the seeming chaos of everyday life. As the narrator repeats over and over the words “the singing man,” eventually those repetitions formulate themselves into the emergence of “the Singing Man”—a mythic figure that goes back to the days of the ancient bards. Dawson is demonstrating the process of how that operation takes place, and has always taken place wherever figures such as this appear. The actual black delivery person certainly is unaware of his mythic function, but that is the point of the story. These events and characters take place continuously, but only those attuned to their resonating presence note them and record their spiritual significance.

The other word that recurs repeatedly is “again.” It is this continuous process of the resurfacing of the bard that occurs again and again. A sensitively attuned artist or writer would detect these mythic occurrences and figures every day, and this is what Dawson documents in this short but powerful vignette. The dense complexity of the syntax also mirrors the quickly changing movement of the attentions of both the narrator and the multicultural inhabitants of this particular neighborhood. That syntax also exhibits the patterns of perceptions that are instantaneously exchanged within and among the group.

Dawson has demonstrated at least three distinct processes in this piece: how an anonymous figure becomes a mythic one, how the Singing Man’s Orphic power unifies a diverse group of people, and how such a “story” actually is created before the eyes of the reader. It is a virtuoso piece of complex writing that few contemporary writers would even attempt to duplicate.