Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Gravity” is relatively straightforward—with the exception of the one long flashback in the first expository section—and gets to its central incident and meaning quickly, with little literary flourish or backtracking. What is most significant about the story’s telling are the different levels of figurative language that Leavitt employs in this short, third-person narrative.

On one level, Leavitt uses images and metaphors to make the story’s meaning more vivid for the reader; in its first section, for example, Theo thinks “of how wide and unswimmable the gulf was becoming between him and the ever-receding shoreline of the well.” Here language is used figuratively to freshen and strengthen meaning. The metaphor of sight—through the many references to eyes, glasses, and vision—has a similar function of helping readers to reach the depth of the story.

The bowl carries that figurative use of language even further into literary symbolism, where the objects represent complex ideas in the story. Twice Leavitt notes the contrast between the bowl’s heaviness and its fragility, and this opposition carries one of the central meanings of the story. What is life, and especially Theo’s, if not heavy and fragile at the same time, balanced as it is between existence and death? Leavitt’s use of language is clever and sure, and it is organically connected to the several meanings of his story.