Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Admiral and the Nuns” begins with Barbara’s pearl necklace breaking for the second time since the narrator has known her. The pearls are the main symbol in the story, signifying Barbara’s superficial, pretentious values. “They’re artificial,” she explains to the narrator. “But good artificial, if you see what I mean.” They also suggest that Barbara’s life is more than only her ill-suited relationship with Stefan and her endless talking about the convent nuns; she tells the narrator that the pearls have a sentimental value, and he guesses this sentiment is not connected to her husband. The story ends with this same second breaking of the pearls, ironically providing it with a structure missing from Barbara’s life. The pearls underscore her inability to use her background to impose any order on her life.

Tuohy’s other major stylistic device is the use of his sympathetic yet impatient, judgmental narrator. This character cannot decide what to make of Barbara. One minute he despises her arrogance; the next he feels sorry for the predicament into which she has gotten herself. As he is kept off balance by her, so is the reader. When she says she must keep Stefan from sin, the narrator wonders if she truly believes this or has “returned to her usual game of lying to herself.” The narrator wants a simple explanation for everything, but his intelligence makes him realize the foolishness of this need.