Style and Technique
Proulx uses a number of stylistic devices to carry her plot. Perhaps the most obvious is the personification of the tractor that engages in dialogues with Ottaline. This innovative approach significantly underscores the theme of loneliness so prevalent in the story. The rebuilding of the tractor also symbolically suggests the salvaging of Ottaline’s otherwise expendable person.
Another symbol that Proulx employs is bunchgrass. The native grass demarcates the place of the story (the perennial wheatgrass grows in the northwest prairies), adding realistic detail to the evident landscape theme. It defines the parameters of the ranch, but it also functions beyond these concerns to represent Wauneta’s world that ends when Ottaline and Flyby marry.
Most of the action of the story is internal conflict that a third-person narrator describes. The description, however, is presented in sparse, terse language that stylistically matches the sparse landscape of the bunchgrass world. The limited dialogue effectively betrays the insensitivity of Ottaline’s family and reveals the inadequacies and fears Ottaline has. The narration and dialogue is presented in an abbreviated laconic manner that correlates to a realistic Western context.
A remarkable amount of information is provided in a relatively small amount of space. There is much distinct characterization for a short story; the sum effect is to foil Ottaline and to define her in a context of limitations and loneliness.
The use of a Western landscape with a modern ranching setting suggests an antipastoral of the American West in which romantic idealism is superfluous and the internal questioning of the meaning of human existence is pronounced.