Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In her introduction to Sansom’s collection of short stories, Elizabeth Bowen says, “A Sansom story is a tour de force.” That statement certainly applies to “The Wall,” which is technically flawless, plunging the reader into experience immediately and holding that attention while he expands a moment almost, but not quite, to the breaking point.

He manages to convey not only the intensity of the crisis but also the weary tedium of the unremitting struggle to contain fires in an air raid. What would be exciting, perhaps even exhilarating in small doses, becomes simply exhausting to the body and stupefying to the mind under constant, night-after-night effort. The initial description conveys this tedious acceptance of the firefighter’s nightly chore, creating an effective contrast to the feeling tone of what follows later in the story. Until this thing happened, work had been without incident. There had been shrapnel, a few enquiring bombs, and some huge fires; but these were unremarkable and have since merged without identity into the neutral maze of fire and noise and water and night, without date and without hour, with neither time nor form, that lowers mistily at the back of my mind as a picture of the air-raid season.

The narrator offers a series of descriptive details that would typify their experience. Although each is sharp and clear, it is prefaced by “I suppose” or “Probably” or “Without doubt,” suggesting that these were every night occurrences, so familiar...

(The entire section is 618 words.)