Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narration of the events of the story is extremely compressed and full of dramatic irony and twists. The narrator, although anonymous, is not completely objective in his report, for he betrays his own attitudes toward religious hypocrisy in his subtly sarcastic language, and he clearly does not believe in the lovers’ sinfulness or guilt. The serene and idyllic middle section of the story is surrounded by scenes of continuous action, in which details are piled up like the rubble of the fallen buildings and often are not easily separated from the whole. The sudden appearance and disappearance of people and voices underlie the haphazard encounters of friends and enemies. There is little causal explanation: Things simply happen, and the characters react as best they can. If the narrator believes in any grander order, he does not reveal it and couches his own metaphysical uncertainties in a series of speculative, “as if” statements: When the earthquake hits, it is “as if the firmament collapsed”; when Josephe rescues her child from the collapsing convent, it is “as if all the angels of heaven protected her”; when the pair are reunited, it is as if they were in the valley of Eden.

The narrative impatience and uncertainty is counterbalanced by a dramatic structure that is exemplary in its economy and power. After plunging immediately into the dilemmas of the story in the first sentence, the narrative unfolds impetuously, with hardly a pause for reflection until the climax of the sermon in the church, from which point the hideous finale is played out with breathtaking rapidity. The ending, with its coda of Don Fernando reflecting on the tragic fate of his friends and son, resolves little and leaves open the question of the proper human response to apparent divine intervention.