Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Closing Down of Summer” is an extended interior monologue in which the narrator alternately looks at and thinks about the scene before him, anticipating the journey ahead for him and his crew, or reminisces about his past, his family, and his way of life. The reader’s sense of intimacy with and confidence in an exceptionally experienced, sensitive, and even heroic spirit accounts for much of the story’s power and effectiveness.

At the beginning, the narrator says that the summer has been unusually warm, so much so that the gardens have died, the wells are drying up, and even the trout in the streams are sluggish and dying. The scene is sharply rendered and has a symbolic value as well, prefiguring the fate of the narrator and of his way of life—slowing down, decaying, and tending toward death. The poetic sensibility that is evident from the first scene manifests itself throughout the story, in the cadence of the language, the vividness of the imagery, and the repeated references to lyrics, songs, and dance.

The story’s actual time frame is only a few days, beginning with the scene on the beach during the hottest days of August, and ending not long after, with the weather changed, the crew leaving, and the narrator looking back on the sand where they have rested and prepared for the future. As he looks back, he notices that the sea has erased all trace of them, another effective image of transience and insubstantiality. Moreover, the brevity of the actual time elapsed combined with the extensive reach of the narrator’s memory is an effective technique for conveying a sense of the speed at which the present becomes the past.

In the space of those few days, the narrator digs deeply into his experience for its meaning and significance. There is a sense of urgency about all this, given his increasing age and the knowledge of the risks he faces. There is also a sense that he is mining his experience for its ultimate meaning and significance, an effort that has dangers comparable to those he faces in the mines of the world, digging for its resources. He fears the search for truth and the sense of inevitable death it brings, but he continues bravely to the end.