Describe how Ben is characterized, and discuss whether the characterization was fashioned to serve the story vice versa?From "The Storm" by McKnight Malmar
In McKnight Malmar's short story, "The Storm," Ben is characterized as a man who is especially frugal (tight with money), who does not like to talk about things he wishes to avoid (to the point that he gets "ugly"), and is "set in his ways." It would seem, too, that he is private about certain aspects of his life: gone from home for long periods of time, ostensibly traveling to and from work.
The reader gets the sense that his wife, Janet, finds security with Ben and generally likes his company, but she also feels sometimes as if something is missing in their relationship.
In terms of whether Ben's characterization was fashioned for the story, or the story fashioned for Ben's character, it almost seems like a "chicken vs. the egg" question: which comes first?
My personal opinion is that the story is fashioned for Ben's characterization. Were it not for the characterization of Ben, the storm would have been frightening by itself. However, even before Janet sees the body in the basement, she already almost dreads Ben's return home, fearing he will be in an ugly state of mind because he has received another letter from New York City, which always puts him in a foul mood.
The story's entire mood feeds off of the fact that there is a terrible storm, Janet is cut off from the rest of the world, and she is petrified. However, what we know of Ben does not put the reader's mind at ease when he arrives.
It is hard not to connect the letters with the lady in the trunk, not accidentally dressed in red, which makes us suspicious of the kind of woman she was: if not a prostitute, certainly a woman very unlike the man Ben is portrayed to be—stiff, structured, and stingy. Red gives way to a sense of passion, flamboyance, and/or and wildness.
The sense of comfort we expect from him does not come from Janet's description of him, or his behavior when he arrives, but from Janet's expectations of Ben, believing that if he is not in a bad mood, all will be well when he arrives.
This brings up another question: since the letter from New York City arrived only three days before, why is Ben NOT miserable and angry as he usually is? One can also not forget that Janet returns home one week early, unexpectedly. Ben makes a fuss about how welcoming the lights are in the dark night, but they also alert him, if he is indeed the murderer of the woman in red, that his secret may already have been compromised, as IS the case.
All of these details from the story that surround Ben's characterization lead me to believe that the story was fashioned to serve Ben's characterization because so much of the story revolves around Ben, and who he is.
What a wonderfully, wicked, frightening, story!