Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Paley uses the first-person point of view in this story, allowing the reader to see the playground and the characters in it from her perspective, which, throughout most of the story, is several feet off the ground. The protagonist is thus “above it all,” allowing her to be fairly objective about the other characters but unable to be really part of the life of the playground: She has not yet come down to earth. The reader is brought to epiphany along with Faith, descending, with her, from the branches and back into the world.

Language is an extremely important factor in Paley’s stories. The various ethnic idioms of New York City and the rich use of the vernacular add life and texture to her works. Language is also an important metaphor in the story. Faith is looking for the right vocabulary, the “unreducible verb” that will tell her “what to do next.” The other characters seem also to believe that she lacks such a language. Richard says, “That’s a typical yak yak out of you, Faith”; Steele accuses her of “garbling”; Mrs. Finn cries “Blah blah. . . . Blah to you.” Even Faith’s attraction to Phillip seems somehow related to his knowledge of languages. Ironically, however, it is a simple question and an even simpler answer that move Faith’s children, and thus Faith, to action.

The most evident metaphor in the story is the tree, on whose limb Faith waits to reenter life. The reference to the children as “seedlings” reinforces this image—it is the children who ultimately bring Faith out of the tree and back into the world.

Finally, it is the pure force of Paley’s language that carries this almost static story, entertaining and enlightening the reader. Describing one of the more respectable but less feeling inhabitants of the playground, she writes: “Along the same channel, but near enough now to spatter with spite, tilting delicately like a boy’s sailboat, Lynn Ballard floats past my unconcern to drop light anchor, a large mauve handbag, over the green bench slats.” Paley, unlike Faith, has no language limitations.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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