Dreamers in a Dead Language Analysis

Grace Paley

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Paley’s lively seriocomic style has been frequently praised for its blending of sardonic wit and spare description, which somehow intimates the gap that she experiences “between knowing and telling.”

The three settings noted earlier—Faith’s apartment, the retirement home, and the beach of her childhood—divide the narrative into the spheres of the intimate relationship between lovers, the argumentative tension between parents and daughter, and the playful communication between mother and children. In all of them, the prose scarcely focuses on physical appearance (except telling details such as the boil on Faith’s wrist). Snapshot impressions punctuate the dialogue. Saturated with diseased or pain-afflicted bodies, the text is largely made up of disembodied voices (no quotation marks are used, and words are rarely attributed to their speakers) whose diverse tones—mocking, derisive, ambiguous, frank, vulgar, urbane, sentimental—more than compensate for the sparseness of “realistic” details to convey the abundant zest or élan of her characters in confronting the cruel indifference and betrayals of life.

The narrative is chiefly composed of dialogue interspersed with brief summaries. The rapid and sometimes discontinuous exchanges between the characters suffice to disclose their temperaments and motivations. When the father says about Faith’s delinquent husband, “Young. Young is just not old. What’s to argue? What you...

(The entire section is 446 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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DeKoven, Marianne. “Mrs. Hegel-Shtein’s Tears.” Partisan Review 48, no. 2 (1981): 217-223.

Gelfant, Blanche H. “Grace Paley: Fragments for a Portrait in Collage.” New England Review 3, no. 2 (Winter, 1980): 276-293.

Harrington, Stephanie. “The Passionate Rebels.” Vogue 153 (May, 1969): 151.

Iannone, Carol. “A Dissent on Grace Paley.” Commentary 80 (August, 1985): 54-58.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Grace Paley: The Sociology of Metafiction.” In Literary Subversions. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

McMurran, Kristin. “Even Admiring Peers Worry That Grace Paley Writes Too Little and Protests Too Much.” People 11 (February 26, 1979): 22-23.

Paley, Grace. “The Seneca Stories: Tales from the Women’s Peace Encampment.” Ms. 12 (December, 1983): 54-58.

Park, Clara Claiborne. “Faith, Grace, and Love.” The Hudson Review 38, no. 3 (Autumn, 1985): 481-488.

Scheifer, Ronald. “Grace Paley: Chaste Compactness.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheik. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985.

Smith, Wendy. “Grace Paley.” Publishers Weekly 227 (April 5, 1985): 71-72.

Sorkin, Adam J. “Grace Paley.” In Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Writers, edited by Daniel Walden. Vol. 28 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984.

Sorkin, Adam J. “What Are We, Animals? Grace Paley’s World of Talk and Laughter.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 2 (1982): 144-154.