Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told in the form of an ironic fable. It begins with the simple fairy-tale opening: “Once upon a time there was a wife and mother one too many times.” This opening introduces both the tone and the theme of the story. The fablelike tone is maintained in the author’s terse style. The sentences are short and simple, and the overall tone is matter-of-fact and objective, adding to the irony of the situation. The nameless characters take on a universal or fablelike quality, and the immediate time and locale of the story are undisclosed. The understanding and self-sacrificing husband is “durable, receptive and gentle,” a fairy-tale prince who is unable to save his wife. The child is a “tender and golden three,” almost angelic. Even the young girl who is hired to take care of the child is described as perfect. The characters have an unreal quality as though they represent types, not real people. They set up the model of a perfect family, a model that the woman cannot accept.

The woman, who is suffering from depression, is described as a “cloistered queen” or a “young virgin in a tower.” These fairy-tale images are also symbols of entrapment, for the virgin in the tower is often imprisoned, powerless, and waiting to be rescued. Other images of doom appear in the story. The woman focuses on the child’s gray eyes and the husband’s gray shirt. The playful child turns into a tiger whose “sharp little claws” rip the woman’s...

(The entire section is 424 words.)