What writing techniques are used by the author in " Like a winding sheet?

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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ann Petry's short story "Like a Winding Sheet" uses a variety of techniques to achieve its effects.

The story uses foreshadowing. For example, it opens with the main character wrapped in a bedsheet in a way that looks like a shroud. That image reappears at the end of the story, but there it is used in connection with his female partner, whom he beats and perhaps kills.

Another technique used very effectively is the story, a technique that I'm not quite sure how to label, is the recycling of images throughout the story. These images mostly cluster around the female characters' faces and the male character's fists. Reread the story, paying close attention to how the narrator talks about the women's faces (including their lipstick and hair) and how the narrator repeatedly refers to the man's clenched fists. The woman's face and the man's fists meet fatefully, of course, at the story's end.

Perhaps this recycling of images is foreshadowing, too. The story is amazingly good, I think, in both its content and its structure.

See the link below to the study guide for this story. The guide is very good, but I read one part of the story differently from the guide. The guide states: "At the coffee shop, the white girl ... refuses Johnson a cup of coffee..." As I read the story, the white woman doesn't refuse to serve the man because he is black. In fact, she could care less about his skin color; she doesn't seem to like any of the men who pass through the line for coffee. She truly has no more coffee to serve at that moment (the narrator tells us as much). The man has been insulted before this incident, and thus he understandably is very sensitive to yet another (perceived, not real) slight, even if it's only in his mind. One strength of this story, I believe, is how effectively it demonstrates the psychological damages or distortions that can result from real discrimination. If I'm discriminated against regularly enough, I can begin to see discrimination all over the place, even when it's not actually there.

Read the study guide:
Like a Winding Sheet

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