Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
As in most of his stories, Callaghan’s style here is objective, concise, and unadorned. He strives to present the essential, illuminating experience directly to his reader. Much depends on the reader’s sensitivity to implications and undercurrents, which is entirely consonant with a story about a young man’s discovery of the poignant reality underlying his mother’s apparently routine existence.
The story is written in the third person, with Alfred as the central consciousness, as befits a story about his moral growth. The clipped dialogue, unmetaphorical prose, and paucity of specific details regarding time, place, characters, atmosphere, and so on allow Callaghan to highlight those moments when the central character’s consciousness expands under the impact of experience.
Structurally, “All the Years of Her Life” develops through a series of surprises moving toward a crucial revelation. Alfred is surprised by his employer, surprised by Mr. Carr’s inexplicable reluctance to prosecute, surprised by his mother’s deft handling of the situation, and finally, surprised by his discovery of the pain and suffering his mother endures. Though compact and spare, the story convincingly suggests the potential in humanity for significant moral development.