Style and Technique
The primary technique employed in this story is the use of irony in having an imperceptive, naïve narrator relate a story, the impact of which he fails to understand himself. This frame story maintains some subtlety in what would otherwise be a fairly obvious tale about a cruel, mean-spirited character who gets the punishment that he deserves.
Lardner’s story is related through the use of a dramatic monologue; the barber is the only character who speaks. The full setting and the understanding that the customer in his chair is a stranger in town become clear entirely through the barber’s conversation. Through his speech, the barber shows himself to be a rather crude, unintelligent, and insensitive observer. He narrates the events in a fashion sympathetic to the jokester, without analyzing or commenting on them except to indicate how amusing he thought all of Jim Kendall’s jokes were.
The entire narration is in a consistent conversational tone typifying a small-town man. The diction, syntax, and pronunciation show the narrator to be provincial and uneducated. For example, he says, “I bet they was more laughin’ done here than any town its size in America,” and “he’d be settin’ in this chair part of the time,” and “she’d of divorced him only they wasn’t no chance to get alimony and she didn’t have no way to take care of herself and the kids. She couldn’t never understand Jim.” Such language (at which Lardner was especially skilled), along with the observations and interpretations of the barber, juxtaposed to the obvious cruelty of the tricks played, make the reader aware of the unreliability of the speaker and heighten the impact of the events narrated.