Style and Technique

When asked why she uses the details of the everyday and familiar in her writing (in “Aunt Carrie,” a cup of tea, the roses on a hankie, the smell of pomade, a bedsheet blowing in the wind, or the touch of a dry palm), Dove has explained that the more specifics you know about someone, the harder it is for you to kill that person. Poetry, she says, springs right out of life and makes you feel more connected. So it is with “Aunt Carrie.”

There are two references, one in each part of the story, to the narrator’s love of drawing. This is used as a literal and metaphoric device: The picture the girl draws of her father in the first part of the story serves to show that the Ernest that the child knows is a different person from the one with whom Carrie is so familiar. The narrator draws out Aunt Carrie in the second part of the story, gently pleading with her to tell her the truth behind her parents’ actions. Indeed, the story is crafted like a drawing—the first part functions as a sketch or framework that is later filled in with detail. The first section is sketched from the “outside,” through the astute observations of the child. The true meaning of what she has observed is then revealed through the carefully wrought confessions of Aunt Carrie. As she tells her tale the narrator and the reader learn the specifics of Aunt Carrie’s life, its pathos, and its yearnings and losses. In the process Aunt Carrie is transformed. When she first...

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