Style and Technique
The point of view is the most important device in this story, combining schoolboy experience with mature understanding. The unnamed narrator speaks in the first person; he is a child of West Vesey Place, somewhat older than Ned Meriwether, and has served his turn at the dancing parties but was not present at the last one. He does not tell the story in chronological order but mingles memories, his own and others’, with reports of the fiasco from several sources. He speaks often of “we” and “us,” so that he seems to be a composite voice of the community, at least for his generation. He also tells the story in retrospect, many years after the event.
The last pages include information and impressions gleaned from Ned’s wife at some time after World War II. By this means the reader knows the unhappy aftereffect for the Meriwethers of their impractical joke. Reasons for the family breach are not clear—the children were too young to analyze their own thoughts and feelings—but Ned’s wife is sure that it started that night at the Dorsets’. She comes from outside Chatham; she lives in it but is not part of it, and her view helps the narrator shape his reactions.
The narrator is a born storyteller. His voice is conversational, his attention sometimes digressive, his insight keen. He understands Chatham, its pretensions and its social values—Bascomb, Meriwether, and Dorset. Peter Taylor has used similar narrators in other stories, and one hears much of the author’s voice in the voice of the fictional storyteller.