Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the central meanings of Bates’s story is his assertion of the close, organic connection between the gleaner and her natural environment; throughout the narrative, striking metaphors urge this connection. At the very beginning of the story, she is introduced in terms of plant imagery, as a very ancient, bare branch of a gnarled, little tree. Her face is the hue and texture of wood that has been etched and planed down by the centuries. Her gestures as well as her appearance link her to the animal kingdom. She is compared to a bird, relentlessly foraging for each minute speck of grain. Separate aspects of the gleaner take on a life of their own; at times, Bates creates the illusion that she is an army of allied organisms, not simply one frail person: Thus, her hands move almost independently over the rough ground, like a pair of scouring mice, as she gleans. Her fingers are similarly animated, like the young ends of ancient trees.

From these and other examples, it can be seen that Bates is a very visual writer, and dynamically so: From beginning to end, the gleaner is presented in action, confronting her environment rather than a passive victim of it. This incessant activity contributes to the image of a heroic, mythic figure who transcends time and place. Some of the images, therefore, emphasize her great age; others, paradoxically, describe her as a very young person. As the gleaner’s day wears on, her accumulating fatigue slows down her movements to the pace of a little girl who has been playing in the sun too long. By not specifically naming his heroine or her locale, Bates emphasizes her timeless, mythic dimension. The archetypal aspect of this woman is made explicit in a passage near the end of the story in which she is referred to as an earth mother,...

(The entire section is 727 words.)