Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story has all the requisite features of the fable or parable. It is very short, even by short-story standards, a mere three-and-a-half pages. The subsequent compressed plot—an old man and boy drive to a cliff from which the boy leaps into the sky and begins flying—lends to the story an aphoristic universality. This universality is reinforced by the general treatment of the setting and characters. Readers never learn the name of the cliff or the names of the characters. As a story about a cliff, an old man, and a boy, it takes on mystical, even transcendental depth, precisely because nothing is named or tied to a specific place or time. Finally, the magical climax of the story places it beyond the realm of the ordinary and everyday. This is a story that has something transcendental to say, like all fables.

One literary device that Baxter employs here is allusion. “The Cliff” rewrites the Daedalus and Icarus myth, this time in Icarus’s favor. Rather than viewing flight merely from the point of view of tradition—flight as a sign of liberation—Baxter also portrays flight here as the youthful dream of an old man who, because he is no longer young, wants a young boy to follow in his wake so that he, the old man, might live vicariously through the young boy. Seeing the boy flying above him, the old man is suddenly young again. He loses his cough and again finds joy in the simple things of nature: “’The sun!’ the old man shouted. ’The...

(The entire section is 444 words.)