Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Exchange Value” is a tightly compressed story. The majority of the story concerns Loftis and Cooter’s discovery and removal of Elnora Bailey’s wealth. Because Johnson has serious ethical questions to explore, he uses many careful techniques to tip off his deeper meaning. For example, Loftis’s transformation into a miser like Elnora is signaled in part by adjectives. When Cooter recalls giving Elnora some change, he describes her walk as “crablike”; several pages later, when he returns from his shopping spree, Loftis is described as “crabby.”

Similarly, Johnson uses language to present Cooter as a keenly intuitive young man aware of the magical nature of this money. When he sees Elnora’s wealth, he tells Loftis that he is afraid the money is cursed. Later, as they are moving her things to their apartment, he imagines himself and Loftis as two wizards, able to transform one thing into another. Finally, seeing Elnora Bailey’s body carried away, he understands that her wealth had a spellbinding quality on her.

The colloquial language of the first-person narrator makes for an entertaining and compelling narration. When Johnson has the narrator suddenly experience deeper insights, the narrative suffers from lack of consistency. The problem any writer faces when trying to use a spoken language as the basis for a written narration is that the true hesitations, digressions, and ellipses of spoken language would be intolerably...

(The entire section is 407 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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