What aspects of Rudyard Kipling’s style and characterization are noteworthy in his short story "They" ?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Anyone reading Rudyard Kipling’s short story “They” will be struck by the sheer amount of dialogue used in this tale. Much of the work is given over to talk between the narrator and the mysterious blind woman he meets one day on a random trip. The fact that the story is told from the first-person point of view of the narrator means that we can never be quite sure exactly why things are happening as they do. By limiting the story’s perspective to that of the narrator, Kipling ensures that we will have no larger view of things than the narrator does. For much of the story, he is confused, intrigued, and puzzled, and so are we.

Kipling’s choice of a first-person narrator helps create a great deal of curiosity and suspense as we read. We wonder, as he does, about the identity of the children he can see – children, however, with whom he never manages to converse, despite his best efforts to make verbal contact with them. Meanwhile, the woman with whom he speaks (who is literally blind but enjoys a great deal of symbolic and figurative insight) is in many ways as mysterious as the narrative itself. She never comes right out and tells the narrator the key fact about the children (that they are ghosts); instead, the narrator is left to intuit that fact for himself.  He does so in a moment that is typical of the story in many ways, when he feels the kiss of one of the silent, ghostly children, standing behind a leather screen, on his hand:

The little brushing kiss fell in the centre of my palm -- as a gift on which the fingers were, once, expected to close: as the all faithful half-reproachful signal of a waiting child not used to neglect even when grown-ups were busiest -- a fragment of the mute code devised very long ago.

Then I knew. And it was as though I had known from the first day when I looked across the lawn at the high window.

I heard the door shut. The woman turned to me in silence, and I felt that she knew.

What time passed after this I cannot say. I was roused by the fall of a log, and mechanically rose to put it back. Then I returned to my place in the chair very close to the screen.

"Now you understand,'' she whispered, across the packed shadows.

"Yes, I understand -- now. Thank you.''

Practically everything here is communicated by implication.  When the narrator says “Then I knew,” we, as readers, are still not entirely sure what he knows. In the very act of explaining that he knows, he creates more intrigue, suspense, uncertainty, and curiosity. Later he says he felt that the woman knew, but again he doesn’t tell us exactly what he thinks she knows. Likewise, the last two sentences of the quoted passage imply far more than they actually reveal.  In this passage, one sees two of the main traits of the style and method of the story as a whole: a heavy reliance on dialogue, and an equally heavy reliance on implication and mystery.

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