Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Marshall embodies her theme in her characters’ physical surroundings and in their physiques. Watford’s estate and house are a barrier between himself and the people he despises, but even that distance is not enough. He hardens even his body against the world, but the tension with which he holds himself eventually squeezes the life out of him.

His leanness is the opposite of Goodman’s expansive robustness, the physical equivalent of Goodman’s outgoing nature and his embracing of the life available to him in Barbados. What Goodman has dissipated through luxurious, sensuous living, Watford has hoarded, but it has dried up in his arid spirit. The house that he has built remains unfinished, the walls unpainted, the furniture unarranged. The magnificent but excessive exterior hides his loss of purpose. He has no one for whom to finish the house. His work in the coconut grove is obsessive, joyless, and dull, his movements mechanical.

Into that life comes the young woman, and as sternly as he tries to drive her off, her humble trust, ease of being, and grace embody a self-acceptance that undermines the basis of Watford’s self-contempt. She is the ultimate danger as well as his only possible salvation. Only by letting her destroy his pretenses can he hope to stop wasting his life. To the end, he cannot unclench his body or his grasp on those protections he has built around himself. His strength has been exhausted in the effort, and when at last the girl’s dismissive blow flings him aside, his very heart is squeezed dry.