Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Neither cluttered nor verbose, Spark’s prose emphasizes dialogue and action. Spark often employs a detached tone in her fiction that creates a distance between the reader and her characters. Such distance makes it possible for the reader to evaluate the words and deeds of the protagonists without feeling sympathy for them. In “The Black Madonna,” the narrator adopts a satiric tone, for example, insisting that Lou is not a “snob”; however, Lou’s behavior clearly reveals otherwise. Similarly, Raymond’s disowning of the child is revealed through his actions. He smashes the cot he has made for the infant and insists that blood tests be performed to rule out the possibility that another man is the baby’s father.

Spark assembles her short-story plots carefully; accordingly she employs a series of parallels in the structure of “The Black Madonna.” First she emphasizes the contrast of the exterior and the interior, reinforcing the discrepancy between the characters’ religious practices and their deeds. The Black Madonna is a “new” statue carved from “old” bog oak. In the same way Whitney Clay is expanding from its old village limits to a sprawling new industrial town. From these exteriors, Spark moves to a description of the Parkers’ apartment in the new part of town. The couple’s exterior seems attractive as well. However, the life the Parkers have carved for themselves contains nothing new. Their Roman Catholic beliefs have not...

(The entire section is 567 words.)