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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

Taylor’s artistry is subtle but powerful. “The Fancy Woman” communicates the themes of disintegration by its skillful use of the third-person limited point of view, its adaptation of grotesque elements from the gothic tradition, and its ironic portrayal of social nuances.

Limiting the point of view to Josie, an unintelligent...

(The entire section contains 451 words.)

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Taylor’s artistry is subtle but powerful. “The Fancy Woman” communicates the themes of disintegration by its skillful use of the third-person limited point of view, its adaptation of grotesque elements from the gothic tradition, and its ironic portrayal of social nuances.

Limiting the point of view to Josie, an unintelligent and relatively inexperienced woman now out of her social element, Taylor severely restricts the readers’ knowledge about other characters’ motives. Josie maintains a hopeful view by grossly simplifying everything, especially human nature: “She’d find out what was wrong inside [George], for there’s something wrong inside everybody, and somehow she’d get hold of him.”

The narrative also reflects her weaknesses by what it omits; for example, no explanations or reflections concerning the strangers in her bed enter the narrative because Josie herself refuses to think about what she has done. The sight of George’s boys on the lawn reminds her of “a scene from a color movie, like one of the musicals”: She habitually perceives experience in terms of clichés—the only sources of comparison and judgment that she possesses.

The gothic elements are well disguised at first by the dark comedy of Josie’s ignorance and George’s callousness. Nevertheless, the vaguely dangerous man, the secretive servants, the isolated house, the mysterious guests, the night visitors to Josie’s room, the turning doorknob, her strange dreams, the enigmatic young boys, and finally her isolation with the younger son, whose voice “came from one part of the house and then another,” firmly imprint the damsel-in-distress motif on the narrative and prepare the reader for George’s violence at the end. Like the use of Josie’s flawed consciousness, the gothic elements work largely in the service of irony.

Finally, another very important ironic element is the pastoral scene, used to bring into bold relief the leisure habits of the “quality” people of urban Memphis. In this simplified environment, this Tennessee Versailles, in its freedom from artificial social constraints, the “sophisticated” people can show who they really are, and they do. Josie remains unaware of all this, but the arrangement of events in the narrative creates ironic commentary on all notions of “class.”

The rituals of conversing, eating, drinking, appreciating nature and the arts (music, poetry, dance, games, and sports)—all communal rituals, in fact—are mocked by these characters. The most dignified persons are the servants. By focusing on a character who is ignorant of these nuances, who misunderstands what is important and concentrates on what is not, the story exposes the hypocrisy and decline of this culture from beneath rather than from above, an approach that places Taylor directly in the tradition of William Faulkner.

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