The story is marked by a muted, direct style that lets the action remain sharply in focus. There is little characterization, and the scenes are drawn with little description. There is a great economy of language as the author focuses on the events and their consequences without commentary. Bowles captures the exotic nature of his setting by using French and Arabic words: hanoute, hammada, aoudad, mehari, mechoui, quartier reserve. The author provides no explanations and lets the context of his words supply the meaning.
Bowles carefully weaves the motif of music throughout the work to create relationships between characters and events. Driss often plays a small flute on his watches; he prefers sad songs for the desert, regarding livelier tunes suitable only for the joys of town. He is destined never to hear brighter tunes again. The second uncle goes off to his death singing of “date palms and hidden smiles.” As he waits alone at camp, Driss is too restless to play. As he approaches the camp after his flight, he hears singing, too indistinct to be recognized but immediately perceived as that of the Moungari. The last song is reserved for the Moungari. As he loses his mind in the punishing heat of the desert, the dust blows along the ground “into his mouth as he sang.”
A smaller motif is that of tea. When the travelers first accept the stranger into their group, they make tea to seal their friendship. The Moungari, who violates this sign of trust and hospitality by his brutal actions, finds himself trapped by the Filala as he makes tea. As he lies trussed in a corner, the avenging tribesmen sit quietly and drink the tea that the Moungari has brewed.