Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of “Absolution” makes great use of detailed descriptions of states of mind, as its central theme is a young boy’s entrance into adolescence, a time when the imagination sometimes dominates one’s perception of the real world. Rudolph’s fear of having offended God for his childish offenses is described as if it were the fear of eternal damnation, for so it seems to Rudolph; similarly, when Father Schwartz’s raving confirms Rudolph’s faith in imaginative reality, it is presented as an entrance into a world of chivalric glory. These devices provide a sympathetic but detached view of Rudolph’s consciousness. Father Schwartz’s own consciousness is also dwelt on as an example of the romantic nature that suppresses itself and is continually assaulted by the sensuous world. The story begins, “There was once a priest with cold watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears.” The fairy-tale-like opening and lyric, evocative quality of the prose establish the pervasiveness of the romantic imagination in the world of “Absolution.”

Fitzgerald also weaves elements of Catholicism throughout the story to suggest that Rudolph, in abandoning his old religion, is entering a new religion of the imagination. The story’s title is the formal term for the remission of sins in the sacrament of penance, but here it refers to Rudolph’s absolution for the “sin” of romantic idealism. Rudolph’s statement that he never lies is seen as an affirmation of “immaculate honor.” Thus, the story also suggests the power of Catholicism on the imagination, stylistically presenting unrestrained romanticism and the discipline of organized religion as the two polarities of “Absolution.”