David Malouf

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What techniques does David Malouf use in "Towards Midnight"?

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In his short story "Towards Midnight," David Malouf uses such techniques as symbolism, simile, suspense, and strong visual and auditory imagery.

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In "Towards Midnight," a solitary woman, who is dying of cancer, watches a man swimming in her pool. The story is particularly rich in imagery and begins with an auditory image, "the hovering close by of mechanical wings" which the woman seems to hear in a dream-state. In this state, the woman wishes for death, but she is soon distracted by the swimmer in the pool, who is a symbol of life and vitality, everything from which she has felt herself cut off.

The swimmer has such a strong life force that the woman sees the pool expand and contract "like a living thing." This is one of many uses of simile and analogy in the story. The final image in the story, again of the swimmer's body, makes him appear weightless:

As if there was no limit to the energy that powered it. As if the breath it drew on might have no end.

Alongside these formal literary techniques of imagery, symbolism, simile, and analogy, Malouf employs suspense throughout the story. The woman's reaction to the swimmer is by no means inevitable. The author explores her possible responses—indignation directed at a trespasser, fear of an intruder, or resentment at a man so thoroughly alive when she is dying—before revealing that the woman is delighted and intrigued as she watches the swimmer. There is also a skillful use of names, since minor characters the woman remembers are named multiple times, but the two primary characters remain nameless, giving them a universal, Everyman quality and increasing the sense that they are symbols and archetypes.

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