Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins and ends with Lily, and although narrated in the third person, is told from her point of view. Lily is a shrewd woman, easily the most interesting. Her observations of the others range from envy to scorn and say as much about her as about them. When she forgets about the dinner arrangements for a moment and imagines how much she will be missed when she goes away to Nice, she thinks about the dresses that her landlady will fondly examine in her room and the diary that will be discreetly removed, so that her landlady cannot read its pointed remarks. Mavis Gallant says much about both characters in this brief scene, and more about their relationship; it is typical of her economy with words that all these nuances of character description and dialogue are contained in such a brief story. Like many of Gallant’s stories, “Acceptance of Their Ways” first appeared in The New Yorker, where it covered four pages with room left for cartoons; it was reprinted in Gallant’s collection An Unmarried Man’s Summer: Eight Stories and a Short Novel (1965).

With her ironic outlook and terse style, Gallant is especially attracted to the oxymoron or contradiction in terms. Lily’s past as a paid companion and her present position as a paying guest cast doubt on the companionship and hospitality by placing them within the cash nexus. Lily’s manner is characterized at once by bullying and servility, showing her ambivalence toward the...

(The entire section is 599 words.)