Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Vaughn tells her story through a series of discrete vignettes, focusing more on the creation of mood and the study of character than on the development of plot. As a consequence, readers will find that they are required to piece together portraits of the Jackson family from the episodes related through the eyes of the narrator. Furthermore, because Vaughn has Gemma relate the events as she witnessed them as a child, readers must imagine many of the emotions being felt by the adults in these scenes.

By using first-person narration, Vaughn powerfully conveys the strong bond between Gemma Jackson and her father. Employing reminiscences, she has Gemma relate key childhood events that reveal how important her father was to her as she was growing up. One might wonder, however, why Vaughn inserts the story of Gemma’s distress over her development of breasts; the segment reminds readers that the story is really about Gemma, not Zachary, and this is one event in her life for which she had to turn to her mother for help. Whether this suggests that Gemma was oblivious to her mother’s influence throughout her life is left to speculation.

What is clear is that the narrator has learned her lessons well, because the story she tells of her relationship with her father is related with precision and insight, two of the qualities Zachary wished his daughter to develop. Vaughn herself reflects exceptional ability to reflect on childhood experiences and to provide readers insight into the world of a child caught in a web of complex relationships with people who, despite their weaknesses, are admirable role models because they are complex human beings.