Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The old convention of beginning a story by jumping into the middle of things draws the reader so far into this story that there is no giving up. Poor Shin immediately stinks up the homecoming, then Ben fills the cabin with smoke and improvises the snake of chains to clean out the chimney. Only then, halfway into the Stevensons’ frustrating but ultimately triumphant day, does the narrative turn backward to recount the journey itself. The story’s success owes much to Mary Hood’s skilled manipulation of the sequence of events.

The story manages an easy, colloquial language with just enough southern slang (such as “reckoned”) and geographical landmarks (such as Macon) to achieve a mild feel of local color. Also, the Stevensons live in a “Jim Walter” home, an allusion that many southerners will recognize. Dominating the story, however, is the chain, a powerful symbol that shines in several directions. It is first a synecdoche, a figure that stands for the whole farm, Cliffie’s adolescence, and the vanished past. Beyond that, it emerges as the instrument of Drew’s reconciliation with his stepfather. Finally, after the ordeal of the journey and the petty calamities of the Thanksgiving Day, it brings the whole family together in a spirit of true thanksgiving that gives every sign of enduring.