Glenway Wescott’s short fiction employs many of the same themes and techniques that he used in his first two novels. The two major themes continue to be the self and love. A technical innovation that he first used in The Grandmothers, the participating narrator, also appears in his short fiction. His use of symbols is also similar to what he had done in his first two novels. The bird remained his favorite symbol and was usually placed at the center of the story. Except for The Babe’s Bed, the short stories that appear after Good-bye, Wisconsin are inferior in quality and demonstrate how Wescott lost his enthusiasm for a literary form once he had mastered it. The next short form with which he experimented, the novella, perfected certain techniques of prose fiction that he used with mixed results in his short stories.
Wescott shaped a number of his early experiences into short stories in which he employed impressionistic techniques instead of the mere transcription of events.
To a certain extent, the ten short stories and title essay in Good-bye, Wisconsin illustrate reasons why Wescott could not stay in Wisconsin. They cannot, however, be dismissed simply as regional stories in that the universal truths of which they speak could be found anywhere.
Several of the stories that deal, in one way or another, with the search for the self illustrate the ways in which rural Wisconsin impedes that search. “The Sailor” goes beyond being a regional story in the way that it also includes the theme of love. Terrie, who is another of Wescott’s expatriates, has joined the navy to escape the depressing surroundings of rural Wisconsin. After spending some time in France, he recounts his adventures there to his brother, Riley. By the time Terrie has finished his narration, he has revealed that he has been severely traumatized by a failed love affair that he had with a French prostitute named Zizi. Riley, however, sees the stories as nothing more than tales of whiskey and women. Sensing Riley’s lack of understanding, Terrie is filled with a thirst that cannot be quenched at home. Emotions such as the ones that Terrie encountered in Europe are foreign to Wisconsin.
Wisconsin serves primarily as the setting for a transition from innocence to experience in “In a Thicket.” Lilly is a fifteen-year-old girl who lives with her senile grandfather in a house surrounded by a thicket. After hearing about a black convict who escaped the night before from a nearby prison, she stays up all night waiting for him to appear. When she finally sees him at the door, she stands transfixed until he walks away. The three-inch gash that she finds in the screen door the next morning symbolizes the figurative loss of her virginity. The sexual side of her nature has been awakened by the intruder, and she emerges from the thicket of her childhood into the world of the senses.
Like “In a Thicket,” “The Whistling Swan” takes place in Wisconsin, but it focuses instead on the theme of love. Like Terrie in “The Sailor,” the protagonist of “The Whistling Swan,” Hubert Redd, is an expatriate. He is, however, closer to Wescott himself in that he is an artist, a composer, and a sophisticate who is aware of both the advantages and drawbacks of living in Europe and the United States. He returns to his hometown in Wisconsin after his wealthy patrons withdraw their support on the grounds that he is immoral and untalented. The love that he feels for his childhood sweetheart complicates his life because it conflicts with his desire to return to Europe and resume his artistic pursuits. Redd’s inner conflict is resolved when he impulsively shoots a swan and simultaneously kills that part of himself that draws him to Paris. The intentional ambiguity of the ending poses the possibility that he is sobbing, not because he has killed the swan, but because he has destroyed the creative impulse that made him unhappy in Wisconsin.
“A Guilty Woman” traces a woman’s progression from a type of love that enslaves to the type that liberates. Evelyn...
(The entire section is 1697 words.)