Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Heart of the Artichoke” is an excellent example of a unified plot that is advanced by vividly drawn and believable characters, not chance or coincidence. Herbert Gold uses language as rich and textured as the ethnic foods that dominate his symbolism. Food is a family symbol of love, security, and abundance. Jake’s store is called Jack’s Fruit and Vegetable, although it sells more than just produce, and Jake seemingly gets as much pleasure from procuring and selling excellent food as he does from eating it.

Using the artichoke—a comparatively scarce vegetable at the time the story was written—for the central metaphor, rather than a more ordinary symbol such as a rose, may seem an odd choice at first, but it works beautifully in the author’s talented hands. From the opening scene in which the father skillfully tears through the artichoke to achieve the hidden treasure of the tender heart, through descriptions of his father “giving himself to a snack of artichoke with Kraft’s dressing, the heart his end but the money-colored leaves loved for what they were,” “listening to the artichokes at the top of a load,” and accepting “being stuck with thorns,” the analogy of the artichoke is echoed in the adult narrator’s realization that life’s treasures are only reached by persistently negotiating through the thorns.