Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“First Love and Other Sorrows” is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator who implies that he is describing past events. Perhaps wishing to set the record straight, he is fair and generous in his portrayals of these events. Objectivity and clarity are fundamental parts of the story’s technique. The reader learns of the characters’ thoughts and feelings not through the pronouncements of an omniscient narrator but rather through what the characters say and do. For example, at the beginning of the story, the narrator explains his mother’s saying that the family would “have to settle for sandwiches” one night with the observation that “my mother pretended that now all the cooking was done for my masculine benefit.” It is up to the reader to notice that the next thing that the mother talks about is a suit for her daughter: “Ninety dollars isn’t too much for a good suit, don’t you think?” During the 1950’s, ninety dollars was in fact a great deal of money to many families.

At the end of the story, the sister comes home after an evening out with the news that she is engaged. The narrator begins to eat some chicken as he discusses the big news with his sister in the kitchen. His sister joins him in eating chicken, saying: “I guess emotion makes people hungry.” The mother then enters the room and asks her son: “Are you eating at this time of night?” When his sister says that she is also hungry, the mother decides to heat up some soup. The narrator relates this exchange without comment. Such clarity and objectivity about a brief, telling moment of family interplay permit readers to feel that they are witnessing, rather than reading about, this little gathering in the kitchen. It is up to the reader to infer that the narrator is gratified that his sister is actually joining him in something, treating him as an equal, and taking his side against their mother. The moment makes a nice contrast with the scene opening the story in which the narrator is eating sandwiches that his mother has made for him.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bawer, Bruce. “A Genius for Publicity.” The New Criterion 7 (December, 1988): 58-69.

Bidney, Martin. “Song of Innocence and of Experience: Rewriting Blake in Brodkey’s ’Piping Down the Valleys Wild.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 237-246.

Braham, Jeanne. “The Power of Witness.” The Georgia Review 52 (Spring, 1998): 168-180.

Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Dolan, J. D. “Twilight of an Idol.” Nation 262 (March 25, 1995): 35-36.

Kermode, Frank. “I Am Only Equivocally Harold Brodkey.” The New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1988, 3.

Mano, D. Keith. “Harold Brodkey: The First Rave.” Esquire 87 (January, 1977): 14-15.

Weiseltier, Leon. “A Revelation.” The New Republic 192 (May 20, 1985): 30-33.