Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story covers a few weeks in the life of a poor family, during which a boy acquires and then loses a cap that has tremendous value to him. Only a few scenes from this period are dramatized, and they are presented in chronological order. Description is kept to essentials, and dialogue carries the story forward. The narrative voice is third person and largely objective, though occasionally revealing Dave’s observations and thoughts. In general, the prose has a cinematic quality. As the story unfolds, it seems immediate, dramatic, and realistic.

In the story, the cap is not symbolic in the ordinary sense, yet some characters invest it with significance beyond its functional and market value. Hence, Callaghan is able to maintain his focus on the external world while calling attention to the existence of other, more important human realities. Also, Callaghan uses the cap as a way of structuring his story. When it is first acquired, it becomes a source of conflict between Dave and Steve; when its ownership is contested, it provides a measure of the distance and difference between the cost of something and its ultimate worth; finally, when it is relinquished, it allows the strong current of natural affection between father and son to be expressed.