Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When Wright lived in Chicago, he observed the callous brutality of a huge white mob that cut the heart out of a lynched man and dismembered his body. The fact that his story falls into five distinct sections that correspond to the five-part structure of a classical tragedy is a significant part of the tragedy of the circumstances.

The narrator skillfully associates images from nature with the boys’ innocence, the lonesome train whistle that reoccurs with the unknown north, the battered snake with the fantasies of retaliation, the “bluesy” songs and spirituals with the slavery that still exists, and the truck with the freedom train of the underground. Wright’s consummate artistry is reminiscent of the fourteen poems that he published in the two years just before he wrote this initiation story; its success encouraged him to continue to write fiction.