Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dubus was a great admirer of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov and emulated his style of realism in his short stories rather than adopting the postmodernist and minimalist styles that were typical of many short stories of the late twentieth century. Dubus’s style allows him here to create a compelling story, in which the reader can identify with the protagonist, in slightly over six pages. Using the limited omniscient point of view, he offers an intense look at the tortured man’s soul over a period of less than twenty-four hours. Other than a short passage in which Mitchell tells Joyce and Marty about the rape, there is almost no dialogue; the third-person narrator describes what Mitchell sees and feels.

The title of the work can be seen as having a double meaning in that it relates to both the curse that Mitchell feels he will bear forever for his failure to protect the woman and the blood that the woman presumably lost from the assault. “The curse” is an old term for the menstrual cycle; after the men left and Mitchell goes to the woman and hands her her clothes, “She lay the clothes across her breasts and what Mitchell thought of now as her wound.” The image of her wounded, bleeding genitals calls to mind the blood associated with the monthly “curse.”

In Dubus’s narration of what novelist Henry James referred to as “the detached incident,” the author vividly sketches a picture from which readers learn a great deal about the characters through their responses to incidents. The protagonist, Mitchell, is presented in the most detail; however, readers can also learn as much about his wife and stepchildren through their responses to Mitchell as through what the narrator says about them. Dubus never actually describes the rape or the woman’s condition, only her shame and crying; nevertheless, Mitchell’s reactions tell the reader the emotional truth about the rape.