Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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 entire section is 451 words.)