Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

There is general critical consensus that what makes Paley so popular is the authenticity of the language that her characters speak and the wonderful irony and wit that underlie her stories. Her characters are brought to life not so much by what they do, but by how they think and talk. This is especially true of her first-person narratives. Whether it is that of an old woman telling her niece the story of her long-term relationship with a second-rate actor (“Goodbye and Good Luck”) or a sexually precocious fourteen-year-old explaining how she got herself engaged to her sister’s boyfriend (“A Woman, Young and Old”), the first-person voice is used by Paley to reveal the core of naïveté and vulnerability behind the tough facade that her narrators present to the world.

Paley also uses a classic unreliable narrator as a vehicle for dramatic irony. In the process of telling their stories to other people—boyfriends, mothers, aunts, nieces—Paley’s narrators acknowledge the temptation to gloss over the uglier parts. They are, in fact, more honest with themselves; for example, Virginia hides some of the truth about her husband from John Raftery, yet tells the reader how cruel he really was. The implied author, whose point of view the reader understands from the structure of the story, suggests that there are deeper truths the narrator will never understand because of her limited perspective on her own life.

The typical Paley narrator...

(The entire section is 413 words.)