Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is rich in detail and human observation, and it cannot be summarized by an account of its symbolic meanings. However, those meanings are important to understand as part of the author’s wit. The symbolic use of the mosquito is clever and economical. In the course of the story, Father Firman learns two things about the mosquito. When Father Nulty tells him that only females bite, he conveys a cynicism with which Father Firman is ready to agree. They both wish to escape from the domination of females. There is another symbolic application as well: The mosquito is a part of nature, a creation of God, yet it is a persistent tormentor that humans never quite manage to eliminate. It nags and gives pain and comes back again and again, representing as well as anything the inevitable frustrations of the human condition. Accepting such frustrations, and perhaps much more, is one’s lot in life.

At the end of the story, when Father Firman attacks the mosquito on the statue of Saint Joseph, the symbolism extends to more explicit religious parallels. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was also ambiguously involved in a marriage in a way that he did not seek. Mrs. Stoner’s declaration that the mosquito needs blood for her eggs seals the argument. The female mosquito not only torments its victim, but must do so, because of its nature and inner need.

The Valiant Woman Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Evans, Fallon, comp. J. F. Powers. St. Louis: Herder, 1968.

Gussow, Mel. “J. F. Powers, 81, Dies.” The New York Times, June 17, 1999, p. C23.

Hagopian, John V. J. F. Powers. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Long, J. V. “Clerical Character(s).” Commonweal, May 8, 1998, 11-14.

McInerny, Ralph. “The Darkness of J. F. Powers.” Crisis, March, 1989, 44-46.

Merton, Thomas. “Morte D’Urban: Two Celebrations.” Worship 36 (November, 1962): 645-650.

Meyers, Jeffrey. “J. F. Powers: Uncollected Stories, Essays and Interviews, 1943-1979.” Bulletin of Bibliography 44 (March, 1987): 38-39.

Powers, Katherine A. “Reflections of J. F. Powers: Author, Father, Clear-Eyed Observer.” The Boston Globe, July 18, 1999, p. K4.

Preston, Thomas R. “Christian Folly in the Fiction of J. F. Powers.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 16, no. 2 (1974): 91-107.