Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Spencer uses the limited omniscient point of view in “First Dark,” entering into the consciousness of Frances, her mother, Tom, various citizens of the town, and even, whimsically, the house. Many short-story writers limit themselves to one point of view, and only an author as skillful as Spencer can convincingly handle multiple viewpoints. There is something of a mythic tone in the story, an appropriate element in what is, to an extent, a ghost story with the classic trappings: graveyard, a mysterious vanishing figure, and a haunted house. There is also an ironic tone: for example, the fact that the mother, a domineering tyrant, seems to have sacrificed her life in order to spare her daughter from spinsterhood. A third tone, somewhat surprising but very effective, is one of humor, especially in the description of various of the characters: the druggist, Frances’s hypocritical sister Regina, and Mrs. Harvey, whose methods of controlling those around her are so exaggerated as to be amusing, despite their detrimental nature.

Spencer’s symbolism is organic to the story. For example, first dark, the time in which many of the events occur, including the appearance of the ghost, symbolizes a time in Frances’s life that is a turning point, when she can slip quietly into the darkness of a lonely spinsterhood or begin a new life for herself.