Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Evenson combines horrific and grotesque elements against an almost surreal background to achieve the overwhelming effects of this story of madness and destruction. The story opens with Daddy Norton’s devastating injury and the open wound’s progressive stages of infection and decay. The scene of Daddy Norton’s attempt to amputate the injured portion of his leg with a butcher knife is followed by an act of patricide. Theron slaughters and mutilates his father with the butcher knife while his brother crouches nearby on the floor with his eyes closed. The actual cause of Mama’s death is never revealed; Theron simply tells his brother that she too had died as he arranges the scene of the crime in order to shift the blame for his father’s death onto his mother.

The episode in which Theron shoots the dog continues this pattern of horror. Evenson describes in excruciating detail the effects of each pellet fired from the air gun, the dog’s pitiable attempts to escape, and his prolonged death throes. The ending scenes of the story mirror the carnage of the opening as Theron’s foot begins to fester and rot. Evenson recounts Aurel’s attempts to scrape away the maggots that have infested the wound. The story ends with Aurel’s discovery of his brother’s rotted corpse in the hallway, his attempt to embrace it, and the disintegration of the flesh itself when he touches it.

The accumulation of grotesque details is overpowering, filling the reader with nightmare images that bring into sharp relief the effects of religious fanaticism on this family. Evenson’s interweaving of flashes of surrealism with this pattern of horror heightens the impact of the tragedy. The scene of the two boys, stripped naked and sitting alone in the house of death, and their confrontation with the woman who comes to collect the rent touches upon the absurd. Theron’s rape of his brother Aurel is presented in the most understated terms. As Theron explores the house, the reader is drawn into his madness as rooms, hallways, and levels begin to proliferate in a impossible manner. Aurel’s own madness is underscored by his confusion of the dead dog’s eyes with the visionary eyes of his father. Looking through this oracle, Aurel re-creates the prophetic vision of his father, where his brother Theron can see only nothingness.