Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Madden places Willis Carr’s account of the past within the framework of a meeting of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and the humor of the story arises from the juxtaposition of Carr’s narrative and the impersonal framework of the secretary’s report. In addition to the implied comment about the unsatisfactory role Carr fills as speaker to this organization, Madden employs a broader humor in the story. The anecdote about Carr sweeping great-grandfather into the fireplace seems material straight out of folklore, as does Carr’s account of himself outrunning the horses of his grandfather, father, and brothers on the way to Knoxville.

More significant is the fact that Madden makes Willis Carr an artist. Even while working as a sharpshooter in Longstreet’s forces, he sketches the faces of his companions on the west wall of the tower in Bleak House. After the war, he tells his audience in Knoxville, he supported himself for two years out West by sketching men he met in bars. Several times during his speech, he refers to the man painting a fresco in Bleak House during the fighting going on outside. These details give substance to Carr’s statement that he has come back to Knoxville to attempt to answer questions that will enable him to feel a part of the war. Like a painter, he is attempting to see the face of truth and to fix it permanently. The story suggests that both Carr’s desire for certainty and his failure to attain it are inevitable.