Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Structurally, “The Babysitter” follows the chronology of a television schedule. It is divided into five sections, each of which corresponds to a program on television. The first section, which covers the time period from 7:40 to 8:00 p.m., is dominated by images and sounds of a musical on television. This section complements Mr. Tucker’s “musical” fantasy of the baby-sitter. In the second section, which corresponds to Jimmy’s “spanking” fantasy, a western organizes and informs the events between 8:00 and 8:30. The third section, unified by a spy show, encompasses the period from 8:30 to 9:00 and corresponds to Jack’s “spying” fantasy. Between 9:00 and 10:00, the baby-sitter changes channels constantly, switching back and forth among three programs: a love story, a ball game, and a murder mystery. It is not easy to associate any of these programs with a specific character, but the murder mystery, which receives the most attention in the various plots, seems to parallel the actions of Mark and Jack, while the love story seems to parallel the triangle of Harry, Dolly, and the baby-sitter. Covering the period from 10:00 to 10:30, the last section repeatedly mentions the news, the only “real” or nonfiction program on the television. Whereas the fictional programs feed the fantasies and influence the actions of the characters, the news program assesses the damage of the Great American Baby-sitter.


(The entire section is 423 words.)