Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of “The English Lesson” is realistic and straightforward. An omniscient narrator provides the expositional background, and most of the action is presented by means of dialogue between the characters in the five scenes: the classroom when the students give their oral presentations; Lali and William walking home together the first time; the luncheonette dialogue with Rudi; the last night of class, when Susan provides cookies and coffee and says good-bye to all; William and Lali’s final walk home when they laugh and joke about Susan. The story is so formally organized that it could well become a short play.

All the details in “The English Lesson” contribute to the dual themes of the treatment of the immigrants as if they were children, and the submerged and unspoken relationship between Lali and William. For example, Susan trying to illustrate the idiom “get the ball rolling” by winding up like a pitcher and throwing an imaginary ball suggests the kind of simplistic gestures that one might use with a child. When Mr. Fong misunderstands and says that “get the ball rolling” is an “idiot” rather than an “idiom,” Susan must correct him.

The fact that the immigrants do not understand English does not mean that they are either children or idiots, as Susan discovers when Diego Torres refuses to be patronized and when Stephan Paczkowski tells her that he is a professor. On the first walk home, when Lali complains that...

(The entire section is 510 words.)