Frank R. Stockton Short Fiction Analysis
Because the masses read Stockton mainly for escape, it was easy for them to miss the underlying thought and sophistication in much of his work. Simply because he was so popular with the general public, Stockton has tended to be ignored by scholars and critics.
“The Magic Egg”
In “The Magic Egg,” Frank R. Stockton successfully employed a narrative device as old as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments: the frame story. The enclosed tale is about a magic show put on by Herbert Loring for a few carefully invited friends. The first part of the exhibition is a slide show projected on the screen of what Loring calls “fireworks,” a kind of kaleidoscope arrangement of pieces of colored glass which form, by means of mirrors and lights, into fascinating patterns. After half an hour of this, the host brings out a table upon which he places a box containing an egg. When he touches the egg with a wand, it hatches into a downy chick that continues to grow until it is an enormous cock. Flapping his wings, the cock ascends to a chair placed upon the table for that purpose, his weight nearly tipping it over. The audience stands, cheers, and becomes extremely excited. Then the magician reverses the growth process and the bird grows smaller and smaller until it enters the egg again, is put back into the box, and the host leaves the stage.
The frame narrative tells how the audience assembled at the Unicorn Club by invitation at three o’clock on a January afternoon has to wait fifteen minutes, because Loring sees that two reserved seats in the front row have not yet been filled. Because the audience is becoming restless, Loring decides to begin even though someone important has not yet arrived. A few minutes after the fireworks part of the show, Edith Starr, who had been betrothed to Herbert Loring a month before, enters unobtrusively; not wishing to disturb the proceedings to find her front-row reserved seat, she sits in the back behind two large gentlemen who completely conceal her person. Her mother had had a headache so she stayed with her until she fell asleep and then came alone to “see what she could.”
At this point the narration changes from omniscient to first person, as the magician describes what is happening in a long monologue of six and a half pages which concludes the frame story. Elated with his success, Loring uses a metaphor in which he becomes the rooster that he produced. He feels as if he “could fly to the top of that steeple, and flap and crow until all the world heard me.” Since the crowing cock who lords it over the hen yard is soon to be deflated, the emblem of masculine power is thus used as ironic foreshadowing, as well as summing up what preceded.
Herbert and Edith meet in her library. He has been in the habit of calling on her every night, so this is part of the acknowledged routine of the engaged lover. The remainder of the action is unfolded in dialogue. She says that she saw the audience wild with excitement. She, however, saw no chick, nor any full-grown fowl, no box, no wand, and no embroidered cloth. Nothing was what he said it was. “Everything was a sham and a delusion;...
(The entire section is 1300 words.)