Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of A. E. Coppard’s technique is his near-symbolic use of setting and landscape in developing the significance of the story. The melancholy gloom of the November afternoon, the darkness of the wood, and the sour smell of the mustard plants, all mentioned several times in the story, parallel the dismal circumstances of the women’s lives. Both Dinah and Rose, at different points in the story, chew on a sprig of mustard flower—Rose, when she contrasts her childlessness with Dinah’s family of four, and Dinah, when she begins to contrast her husband’s feebleness with Rufus’s virility. The mustard flower, while not precisely a symbol, is clearly used to draw attention to the principal disappointment in each woman’s life.

Although the “wind hustled the two women close together . . . as they stumbled under their burdens” on their way home, Rose’s failure to reply to Dinah’s gesture of friendship at the end of the story suggests that even friendship fails as a consolation in the bleak world that is the lot of these women. This view is reinforced by the way Coppard handles point of view, scrupulously avoiding direct revelation of the two women’s thoughts. Their thoughts may to some extent be inferred from their words and gestures, but the fact that the thoughts themselves are never directly revealed subtly reinforces the aloneness and isolation of the women’s lives.