The Gardener Analysis
by Rudyard Kipling

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Gardener” is notable for those elements typical of Kipling’s late style: brevity, subtlety, and irony. Unfortunately, these qualities of the mature artist are occasionally interrupted by the sentimentality so characteristic of Kipling. The telegram notifying Helen that Michael is missing is delivered by the postmistress’s seven-year-old daughter, who arrives weeping loudly “because Master Michael had often given her sweets.”

More admirable is Kipling’s economic style of storytelling as he quickly gets Michael born and killed so that he can proceed with the real story: Helen’s response to this death. The ironic tone and relative subtlety of the story can be seen in Kipling’s description of the event immediately following Michael’s death: “The next shell uprooted and laid down over the body what had been the foundation of a barn wall, so neatly that none but an expert would have guessed that anything unpleasant had happened.” Best of all is the description of the military cemetery, where order has ostensibly been imposed on death: “All she saw was a merciless sea of black crosses, bearing little strips of stamped tin at all angles across their faces. She could distinguish no order or arrangement in their mass; nothing but a waist-high wilderness as of weeds stricken dead, rushing at her.” This masterly conjoining of death, war, and the chaos of Helen’s emotional state helps refute H. E. Bates’s claim that Kipling was not an artist but a journalist.