Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Yates prided himself on capturing his characters in revealing secrets about themselves they would have preferred to keep. He achieves that goal in this story through his selection of vivid details. For example, Carol receives predictable, impersonal gifts from her coworkers and boss on the eve of her wedding: a gardenia corsage, a silver candy dish, and a gift certificate from Bloomingdale’s. At lunch, the women eat chicken and drink unfamiliar cocktails. Their work job is mundane. Grace labors as a typist—faceless among the ranks of those just like her who giggle and tease the afternoon away, seeking any relief possible from the boredom of their employment.

Yates divulges both character and social class through dialects and dialogue. Ralph, for example, reveals his blue-collar background and unsophisticated nature when he describes receiving his bonus: “The boss siz, ’Here, Ralph,’ and he hands me this envelope. He don’t even crack a smile or nothin’, and I’m wonderin’, what’s the deal here? I’m getting fired here or what? He siz, ’G’ahead, Ralph, open it.’ So I open it, and then I look at the boss and he’s grinning a mile wide.”

Yates also uses vivid details to disclose the norms of social class that constrain the characters. For example, Martha tells Grace that the right kind of man uses words like “amusing” and wears “small-shouldered flannel suits like a uniform.” Grace’s father works in a paper mill and drinks beer. Her mother repeatedly uses worn-out phrases such as “bright and early.” Upper-class Martha, on the other hand, looks “very svelte in a crisp new dress.”

Mannerisms and gestures also reveal character and conflict, much as stage directions do in a play. At the story’s end, for example, Grace “blazes” to her feet and utters a cry of protest, but it sounds more like a whine than an appeal, so she capitulates quickly to Ralph’s desire to return to his friends. As he leaves, she folds her arms across her chest and puts on a tired smile, agreeing without objection to meet Ralph on time the following day to carry out their wedding plans. The scene is so intimate and so pitiful, the reader is left feeling an intruder into a vast tragedy of the heart of far greater significance than the characters, setting, or dialogue import.