Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stegner was an exceptionally economical writer, communicating much with few, telling details. For example, the information that the father has spent two weeks digging an icehouse so that he can have cold beer and ice water during the summer suggests that he is a hard worker who focuses on satisfying his desires. When this detail is contrasted with his adamant refusal to spend even a small part of his afternoon to drive his wife to Old-Man-on-His-Back so that she can cut willow slips, the icehouse takes on new meaning, exposing the father’s selfishness, his domination and control of his family, and his ability to thwart his wife’s desires.

Stegner’s use of perspective in this story also contributes beautifully to his creation of the father’s “butcher bird” personality. The story is told by an unidentified third-person narrator, whose perspective and sympathy lie with the boy. The first few paragraphs demonstrate that the weather strongly influences—almost determines—the mood of the father, a wheat farmer, and the father’s mood dictates the actions of the boy and his mother—whether they will have to walk and talk quietly through the house so as not to aggravate the father’s already foul temper. The experience of living on the farm, with this particular father, is related as the boy’s experience. We see all excursions as adventures for the boy. The detail of the soft gingersnaps is a boy’s, not an adult’s, weather barometer. As...

(The entire section is 411 words.)