(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Duel” is based on a simple but provocative premise: What if an ordinary man, a salesperson, were driving along a highway minding his own business when a truck driver, for no discernible reason, suddenly challenged him to a duel of machines? The task the author poses for himself is to develop fully the potential of this premise, to dramatize its limited but exciting and suspenseful narrative possibilities.

Heading west on a two-lane highway through the mountains, Mann, a middle-aged traveling salesperson, sees very few vehicles. Because he must maintain his routine speed of fifty-five miles per hour if he is to keep his appointment in San Francisco, he casually passes a truck that is pulling a gasoline trailer. This action somehow sets off a hostile response in the faceless truck driver. The truck passes him, Mann passes the truck, it passes him again, and he begins to realize that an unusual situation has developed, one the truck driver intends to control. An intricate series of actions and reactions ensues, with Mann’s own emotions escalating from bewilderment to mild irritation to ordinary anger to mortal fear to combative rage.

There are three major turning points in the narrative. As he climbs a steep grade, Mann is able to pass the truck, but he blares his horn derisively. Soothed by a reverie about his wife and children, with music on the car radio as background, he settles into the delusion that the incident is over. However, on...

(The entire section is 520 words.)