Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told from the vantage of a narrator who owns property adjoining the Pastern’s property; the narrator learns the ultimate fate of the Pasterns and Mrs. Flannagan from a letter that his mother sends him. This narrative device suggests that the story is a form of gossip, but it also underscores the story’s authority, for the narrator himself is a member of the community that the story anatomizes.

Beyond this, Cheever uses the image of the bomb shelter to focus the social meaning of the story. In itself, the shelter stands for survival selfishly conceived. For Charlie Pastern, the bishop, and Mrs. Flannagan, it represents their personal survival at the expense of the survival of others and of those values that make a living community meaningful. As such, it represents failure: Charlie cannot pay for it and loses it to the new owners of his house, and Mrs. Flannagan cannot use her key to it in the end.