Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is one of Lovecraft’s most tightly constructed stories, largely as a result of his use of linking elements that give subtle clues and anticipate developments. The climactic scene in which the monster on the hilltop cries out to its father is presaged by Old Whateley in the beginning, when he tells the loungers at the general store that a child of Lavinia’s would call for its father on Sentinel Hill. The constant rebuilding and expansion of the farmhouse are clues to the existence of the horror within and its growth. Smell is important, for the similar odors of the upstairs room (where the monster is growing), Wilbur, the top of Sentinel Hill, and the rampaging monster at the end serve to provide clues to the identity of Wilbur. Even sound is utilized, for the whippoorwills always cry in concert before a death.

Some of Lovecraft’s strategies are reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe—not surprising, because he once referred to Poe as his god of fiction. These devices include the conscious use of archaisms and a tendency to use many adjectives. Dr. Armitage “seemed to sense the close presence of some terrible part of the intruding horror, and to glimpse a hellish advance in the black dominion of the ancient and once passive nightmare.” This style, mannered and obtrusive in Lovecraft’s earlier prose, was more successfully utilized for narrative effect in his later fiction, such as “The Dunwich Horror,” in which the story is related in almost reportorial fashion.