Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Author and narrator appear as the same person and participant in the action. The author-narrator relates, comments, reflects, and treats his reader as interlocutor. This approach creates a feeling of directness and sense of immediacy. The author-narrator directs his voice to the ear of the reader. His voice is pleasant and does not grate. Briefly, a subnarrator appears in the person of Mr. Zverkov, who relates the circumstances of Arina’s life in his household. His account and the manner of his speech are used as a negative device of characterization of this man. Modulation is attained by the occasional but sparing use of dialogue. All excess is avoided in this prose style, which aims at clarity and deliberately shuns the use of ornamentation. The descriptions of nature possess a lyrical quality, but these, too, are subdued. The sounds of nature, such as the soft chirping of birds in the enveloping darkness, are gentle and accessible only to the sensitive ear. The prevailing characteristic of nature is silence.

The story has a clear structural design with seven apparent sections, starting with the opening scene in which the narrator and Yermolai lie in wait for the woodcock to appear, up to the moment when they fall asleep. The interval of time between the opening and closing of the story is only a few hours. Moderate use is made of telling names: Zverkov (Arina’s insensitive master) is derived from zver’ (“beast”).

The soft narrative voice of the author, the subdued lyricism of its setting, the theme of a lonely existence (Yermolai), and a suggestion of long, inevitable suffering (Arina) let the narrative conclude on a minor key, likely to produce in the reader a feeling of melancholy and mild sadness while also suggesting truth and giving aesthetic pleasure.