Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James Lee Burke chooses the narrative point of view in the story well: that of a boy largely innocent of the racial prejudice that dominates his world but of an age to begin to see how it affects everyone’s lives. Avery relates the events of the plot in present tense, luring the reader into the suspense and confusion as the events unfold. He has a keen eye for detail as he describes people, food, and his surroundings. He gives the dialogues between characters, revealing them dramatically rather than through summarization.

Another literary device Burke uses is to have Avery reveal his own thoughts and mixed feelings about the situation, particularly the conflict between his parents. Avery knows he should not go looking for the convict, but he is curious and even sees himself as protective of his father. However, when the convict is recaptured, Avery is little boy enough to be distracted and won over by the dinner his mother prepares and to be glad his father carries him to bed. He says he does not know or even care what his father meant when he spoke of “battered innocence.”

However, at the very end of the story the narrative time frame changes. Avery says that it was only years later that he understood that “it is our collective helplessness, the frailty and imperfection of our vision that ennobles us and saves us from ourselves.” The rich and lyrical prose style here is that of a reflective adult, one who has learned that regardless of whether an individual always manages to act compassionately toward others or is always wise in choosing to help, it is that vision, or goal to be compassionate, that is humanity’s greatest quality.