Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Steele’s story is realistic and plausible, a host of features indicate that it should be read as a fable. A fable is a brief tale that uses stylized characters and, often, fantastic elements to present a simple moral lesson. Steele’s tale qualifies for such a categorization through its use of narrow plot, simplified characters, fairy-tale motifs, and a somewhat didactic ending.

The plot is reduced to the minimum. Only the three central personages are named and described, and only two scenes—the events surrounding the two murders—are painted in any detail. What happens between these key incidents is sketched lightly, with the reader being told, rather than shown, what occurs in the intervals.

The characters are two-dimensional. The son is identified as shiftless, and little else is said about him. Boaz, the one character who is portrayed in some depth, is accorded a few exaggerated traits, such as the possession of super-acute hearing, and these are drawn in a stylized way. In describing how Boaz has brooded about the murder and fire while working steadily at his bench, for example, his arms are depicted in expressionist terms. “One could imagine those arms growing paler, also growing thicker and more formidable with that unceasing labor; the muscles feeding themselves omnivorously on their own waste, the cords toughening, the bone tissues revitalizing themselves without end.”

Fantasy elements are deftly added...

(The entire section is 423 words.)