Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Given the folktale plot of the story, the stylized nature of its technique seems inevitable. If the events seem somewhat melodramatic and simplistic, then the language of the story is that which attempts to dignify it, for Grau tries to give the story the simple dignity of the folklore ballad or classic tale. The language is controlled and balanced; it strives to create the illusion of an oral tale even though it has the formality of a written story. In style, as well as in character and plot, the story is reminiscent of such authors as McCullers and Welty but only as a facile imitation of writers whose stories are definitely superior in both their subtlety of theme and delicacy of tone.

Grau appeared on the American literary scene in the mid-1950’s amid a flurry of predictions of great things to come. However, such a simplistic story of black life as “The Black Prince” was much more likely to be acceptable to readers in the mid-1950’s than any time since; the fascination with the music of black culture was beginning to manifest itself in the birth of rock and roll music (although mostly made acceptable by being recorded by white artists) and much of American society was guilty, in that age of innocence and white conservatism, of unconscious racial prejudice. These factors combined to make “The Black Prince” an easily accepted confirmation of white suspicions about black life, even as it allowed white readers the mistaken sense that they understood that life.