Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of Doris Lessing’s work is autobiographical. Although the narrator is unidentified in this story, her attitudes presumably mirror the author’s own. Like the narrator, Lessing was at one time associated with the Communist Party and subsequently broke her ties with it. Her disaffection probably did not occur as she describes it in this story, but some of the issues she raises and the conflicts she relates no doubt figured in her decision. Stalin’s death is the occasion for the parting of the ways, not the cause of it.

Lessing is particularly effective in revealing character through dialogue and in describing the way people speak. Jessie, for example, “always speaks in short, breathless, battling sentences, as from an unassuageably inner integrity which she doesn’t expect anyone else to understand.” Another technique of Lessing is to relate her main character’s values through that character’s reactions to the comments of others, including those she hears by eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers. In the bus, a middle-aged couple are arguing about fish, “all those little fishes,” says the man. “We explode all these bombs at them, and we’re not going to be forgiven for that, are we, we’re not to be forgiven for blowing up the poor little fishes.” The narrator says, “I had known that the afternoon was bound to get out of control at some point; but this conversation upset me.” The reaction masterfully reveals an intellect troubled by surroundings from which it had previously drawn support.