Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When a writer’s meanings are intentionally ambiguous, the reader can almost always depend on the techniques used to express those meanings to be clear. As an artist, Mansfield is an impressionist; as impressionist painters offer a single image charged with emotion, she focuses on a single image, Bertha standing with Pearl communing with the pear tree, and a single emotion, bliss. The image is sharpened, the emotion is intensified, by the controlled use of two major devices: point of view and a style that evolves most naturally out of it.

The point of view is third-person, central intelligence; that is, all elements of the story are to be taken by the reader as having been filtered through Bertha’s perceptions. As Bertha responds emotionally, imaginatively, and to a lesser extent intellectually, the reader receives her psychological impressions, expressed in the third person by the author in a style carefully controlled, paragraph by paragraph, to suit Bertha, on this particular day, at each instant. The reader should anticipate that Bertha’s perceptions, like those of all human beings, are likely to be in error, to be flawed, or distorted, especially considering the fact that on this day a single powerful emotion is sweeping her along through the hours: bliss.

The surprise ending is one of those literary devices most often open to abuse or misinterpretation. Commercial writers use this device to stimulate a transitory thrill. The serious writer knows that a surprise ending may generate numerous misleading,...

(The entire section is 632 words.)