Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In an early interview, Walker offers an autobiographical source for this story and observes, “I was the children, and the old man.” The story is better served by focusing on the way Walker transforms an ordinary, recognizable event—an old man thinking that he is dying—into a magical and meaningful experience about the nature of death. The title is a homey variation on the basic human rebellion against death and reverberates like the first sentence of a preacher’s sermon. The story stands as a testimonial of faith. The archetypal text gives the congregation of readers an opportunity to draw from common experience. The style is repetitive in the manner of a revival meeting, yet original like a sweet, sad, wonderful song that springs spontaneously from the strings of an old blues guitar. This technique yields both ritual and impromptu experience.

Throughout the story, the narrative tone is loving and warm, compelling by its generosity of spirit. The attention is focused on the plight of the often-dying, beloved old man, while the independence and special achievements of the educated young female narrator are understated. Walker parodies the traditional formula of popular romance by making this hero poor, old, alcoholic, and diabetic—a vulnerable old man, always crying and dying.

The story derives its deep emotional power from universal values, archetypal imagery, and recurrent rhythms. The narrative style springs from an ancient oral tradition of storytelling, a spontaneous and lyric form. The text is musical in its repetition of words and sounds.