Style and Technique
Bellow attempts no razzle-dazzle effects but tells his story in a conventional alternation of dialogue with passages of description and summary from the third-person omniscient point of view. He is economical but effective with figurative language (for example, “The gaunt horse-like Spanish locomotives screamed off their steam” and “Trolley sparks scratched green within the locust trees”). Bellow catches in a few lines the misery of Miss Walsh, whose admitted commitment to life’s satisfactions contrasts so effectively with Feiler’s aimlessness and timidity. Bellow says of her, “she thought she was a person of charm, and she did have a certain charm, but her eyes were burning.” Later, Feiler notes her “busted-up face” and he feels sorry for her “and yet lucky to have met her.” She hints at a life wasted for passion when she admits, “You see, I used to read widely once. I was a cultivated person. But the reason for it was sex, and that went.” She is a minor character but a memorable one, created by a few quick lines of description.
One of Bellow’s most effective narrative devices is his use of descriptions of the weather. It is the relentless rain that precipitates Miss Walsh’s tirade against the American scientists’ meddling with the laws of nature, and it is the rain that soaks and humiliates the egregious Feiler even before he has to stand up against the condescension of the smirking Guzman. Finally, when Feiler leaves Segovia to return to Madrid and the bitter Miss Walsh at his pension’s dinner table, it is the rain that participates in a grand pathetic fallacy to mock the hapless Feiler: “As the train left the mountains, the heavens seemed to split; the rain began to fall, heavy and sodden, boiling on the wide plain.”