Style and Technique
O’Brien’s straightforward chronological structure with flashbacks into Nelly’s past belies the subtlety of her story’s multilayered motifs. The story’s most prevalent motif, consisting of both physical and mental cages, reinforces Nelly’s desperate mental state. The travel agent’s posters depict cities surrounded by walls, the hotel closet hooks remind Nelly of “skewers,” and a hotel window’s slanted view of the ocean seems like a barred prison window. Reminiscences of her childhood are even more imprisoning, especially when Nelly recalls her brother’s padlocking a hall door to keep her out and Gertie’s standing in Vince’s doorway to shut her off from her would-be lover. Those painful memories of her childhood cause Nelly to “put an iron grille” over her former life as she tries to keep “the weed and bindweed of the past” from pushing “up through the gates of her mind.” Neither the present nor the past offers any consolation to Nelly.
Even more subtle are the various motifs that O’Brien uses to hook the present to the past, especially as the past relates to Vince—the love that Nelly never managed to forget. Nelly’s selection of a seaside resort—with which she associates happy newlyweds—is the same place where Gertie and Vince were supposed to have honeymooned. The red clothing of the people on the beach stands out, as did Vince’s dashing red sweater. The shifting green, blue, and violet of the sea mirror...
(The entire section is 422 words.)