Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As one might expect from a writer whose favorite author is the American novelist Henry James, the handling of point of view is crucial to the overall significance of Donoso’s story. His narrator’s perspective on the events is affected not only by the circumstance of his reconstructing the story many years after it happened, but also by the fact that he was only a child at the time of his aunt’s disappearance and thus not privy to the conversations among the adults. As sometimes happens in James’s novels, Donoso’s narrator has only a partial and limited access to the story he wants to tell. Indeed, much of what he reveals he did not personally witness but only overheard by standing outside the closed door of the library, where his uncles gathered to discuss Aunt Matilde’s disappearance.

For this reason, the narrator’s account contains guesswork and speculation. The central mystery of Matilde’s disappearance thus remains unresolved. Not only was she never heard from again, but the narrator can never learn precisely why she left. Alternatively, he may know why she left but—like his father and uncles—is incapable of coming to terms with the real reasons for her disappearance. It is significant that the first word of his account refers to her disappearance only as Esto, “It”—a vague, imprecise designation that may betray his difficulties with coming to grips with the disappearance of his aunt. By the end of the story, he is no closer to the truth. Appropriately, the story ends not with an explanation of the mystery, but with a confession of uncertainty: “The door of the library was too thick, too heavy, and I never knew if Aunt Matilde, dragged along by the white dog, had got lost in the city, or in death, or in a region more mysterious than either.”

Although in one respect the narrator’s function is to open the “closed book” of his family’s life and discuss publicly the story of his aunt’s disappearance, in another respect he cannot—or will not—disclose much: He opens the book only to shut it again, leaving the reader in the dark about the causes and results of Aunt Matilde’s last “walk.”