Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Hill’s straightforward, easy-to-read prose has the resonance of a folk ballad. In part, this effect is achieved by her use of traditional symbolism. The sea is the predominant symbol in the story. It represents both freedom and death. It gives life to the village, but it also takes life because of its power. Descriptions of the turmoil of the sea reflect the inner emotional turmoil of the characters involved. When Duncan sees the dead body of Ted Flint, he can only compare it to the deaths he has known, that of dead fish, “dead white cod.”

Further symbolism of the sea and nature is achieved in the use of the characters’ names. Hilda and Duncan Pike see each other and themselves as useless. A pike fish in England is a freshwater fish that is good for nothing, including food, and is bothersome and caught only by mistake. Ted Flint is as tough and strong as his name implies. He is the flint that starts the spark in Duncan, provoking him to want life.

The final words of the story show that life goes on just as nature endures. Hilda Pike is dead, Duncan Pike has been apprehended, but the land, the sea, the seasons, and the elements are eternal. “Later that day, the wind veered west, blowing in soft-bellied rain clouds. The thaw began.”