Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Typical of Stafford’s work, this story does not call attention to its stylistic features; nevertheless, it shows meticulous care in its strategies. The story’s purpose, to reveal May’s growing consciousness of despair, is well served by the unobtrusive voice and the restriction of the third-person narrative to May’s own consciousness. There is much that May does not recognize in the early part of the story, but by refusing to reserve the highest consciousness for her narrator, Stafford avoids condescending to May, allows her to retain full stature, and emphasizes her gradually maturing vision. The persona who tells the story implies a sympathy exclusively for May but does so only in arranging events: Daniel speaks his intolerance and retreats to his study. The narrative voice itself is unfailingly objective, following realism’s assumption that the events, told completely, will interpret themselves.

The arrangement of events and placement of images shows Stafford at her masterful best. For example, descriptions of the earlier years of the marriage emphasize their intellectual sharing. Daniel’s refusal to converse with May about his research or his year in the sanitarium reveals his inability to speak of what actually preoccupies him: jealousy and suspicion. The story’s imagery, however, implies in other ways that May has never wished to be unfaithful: May’s dream of canoeing with her lover in a meadow of water lilies parallels exactly an...

(The entire section is 471 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Austenfeid, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Goodman, Charlotte Margolis. Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Hulbert, Ann. The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Roberts, David. Jean Stafford: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Rosowski, Susan J. Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Ryan, Maureen. Innocence and Estrangement in the Fiction of Jean Stafford. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Walsh, Mary Ellen Williams. Jean Stafford. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Wilson, Mary Ann. Jean Stafford: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.