Style and Technique

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

Style is crucial in this story. Fish-hound tells the tale in a manner and dialect that is typically black. Dumas creates the feel of oral speech, even as he gives Fish-hound’s spoken tale a biblical rhythm. Thus, the story combines the oral with the written, the informal with the formal,...

(The entire section contains 451 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Style is crucial in this story. Fish-hound tells the tale in a manner and dialect that is typically black. Dumas creates the feel of oral speech, even as he gives Fish-hound’s spoken tale a biblical rhythm. Thus, the story combines the oral with the written, the informal with the formal, the everyday with the ritualistic. “Ark of Bones” also blends the naturalistic with the fabulistic and the everyday with the supernatural. The linking of these two realms of the profane and the sacred is typical of short-story technique, and Dumas makes use of the combination to address the black experience.

The story is somewhat difficult to read, not because the dialect is hard to understand but because of the elliptical nature of Fish-hound’s speech and the abbreviated and cryptic nature of the dialogue between Fish-hound and Headeye. It is also difficult to determine the nature of Headeye’s experience because so much of the story depends on a religious view of reality in which signs are manifested in everyday life, in which ordinary objects have totemistic value, and in which Old Testament religion is taken literally and thus is very much a part of external reality.

To respond to the story appropriately, one must be willing to enter completely into the seemingly aimless but actually quite formal and stylized language of the young narrator. As in many similar first-person narrator stories (for example, those by Sherwood Anderson), one must accept the values of the narrator, at least temporarily, as a way into the worldview of the story. Fish-hound is a young man trying to understand, trying to make sense of his experience and to communicate that experience to others. That Headeye’s confrontation with his own special destiny goes beyond commonsense understanding adds poignancy to Fish-hound’s apparently stumbling and wandering story line. Consequently, more than simply a commonsense understanding is required to accept this highly stylized spiritual/social parable.

“Ark of Bones” is the title story of Dumas’s only short-story collection, published after his death at age thirty-four. It is typical of other stories in the collection in its focus on the oral nature of the African American culture in the United States, particularly the Gospel tradition and the tradition of black blues. Thus, although the language of the young narrator may appear uneducated and aimless, there is a sense of ritualized music, almost a chant, in the sound of his tale. What the story ultimately attempts to do is create a sense of the very source of folktale and legend as Fish-hound watches the birth of a heroic figure for the twentieth century black, as Headeye is consecrated to go out and “set my people free.”

Illustration of PDF document

Download Ark of Bones Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Themes