Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is a carefully controlled story, so packed with events similar in their significance that it can truly be said to be “loaded.” There is nothing superfluous to the cumulative impact of Seth’s confronting incongruity and coping with how to integrate the new and mysterious into his understanding of life. Because it is told from the point of view of the adult Seth recalling a memorable day, the language of the story is that of an intelligent and thoughtful adult, one trying to understand something by means of an imaginative reconstruction; in short, it is a tale told by an artist, a miniature portrait of the artist as a young man, making a discovery about the need for sympathetic understanding of other humans that is essential for the artist.

Because the story is both a description of the boy’s day and a conscious effort of the adult to understand it thirty-five years later, the reader must respond to a double perspective: the uncomprehending view of the child and the probing thoughts of the adult. Thus, although the story is told primarily as simple description and narration, it also intersperses expository philosophical passages of the man attempting to understand and explain. The very fact that the story is so firmly directed toward the classic theme and structure of the rite-of-passage initiation story and the fact that it is so loaded with obvious images of death, the unexpected, the incongruous, and the mysterious, indicate that this is an artist’s story, for it is told by a writer who is well aware of the tradition of the initiation story as well as the use of conventional metaphors for death and disruption. The metaphors are handled with such naturalness and confidence, however, that they seem to exist as part of a real and tangible world, even though the reader is aware that this is a highly conventional story.