Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Plomer’s choice of an omniscient narrator who reports primarily in the third person but occasionally speaks with the first-person “we” and the second-person “you” reinforces the story’s theme by emphasizing that events happening to others are like those that occur in the lives of all human beings. The author avoids using the first-person “I,” which would cause the reader to disassociate from experiences that would thereby seem personal instead of universal.

The tale’s ironic tone mimics its ironic message. For example, Plomer writes, “We hear a great deal about sex nowadays; it is possible to overestimate its importance, because there are always people who pay it little attention or who apparently manage, like Sir Isaac Newton, to get along, without giving it a thought. Frant came of a susceptible family.” The author’s subtle-yet-constant humor acts as an essential lubricant to the story’s somber theme.

Plomer’s frequent allusions couched in figurative language define and enhance his style. Although his similes and metaphors foreshadow forthcoming events, they also personify emotions and conditions so the intangible becomes tangible and so the reader can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell what the people of Plomer’s world feel. When Frant initially contemplates his African landscape, at first sight it seems, “like so many African landscapes, a happy mixture of the pastoral and the magnificent, but those who lived under its influence came to feel gradually a mingled sense of uneasiness and sorrow, so that what at first seemed grand became indifferent or menacing.” Those sunny hills seem to “be possessed by a spirit that nursed a grievance.” Similarly, when Frant congratulates himself for being better than the white people around him, Plomer writes that this attitude “shut him up in a cell of his own (as it were) closely barred with high principles.”