Helping Analysis
by Robert Stone

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Stone has observed that the traditional concept of realism was a “fallacy,” he has qualified this position by saying that since he does not “believe in it to start with,” he does not “feel the necessity of reacting against it.” His somewhat paradoxical and protective position has enabled him to use a kind of intensely realistic description as a means for drawing the reader into scenes of action that reveal and illuminate character.

This technique makes Elliot’s moments of anguish especially poignant, as when he rages against the loathsome Vopotiks or when he goads his wife into lashing back at him as a compensation for his loss of control. Consequently, even with an omniscient narrator, the narration is close enough to Elliot’s psyche to encourage the reader’s identification with him throughout moments of clearly self-destructive behavior.

In addition, both Elliot and his wife are hyperarticulate, well-educated, and self-aware people involved in professions that require a constant dialogue with the people they are trying to help. Grace’s sincerity is evident in her patterns of speech, as is Elliot’s defensive irony, which he resorts to when coworkers and clients press him too closely. When they are involved in an extended conversation at the center of the story, the dialogue is both riveting and forbidding, fascinating in its naked revelation of their needs and horrifying in the way something usually unseen has been exposed. The individuality of their speech patterns permits Stone to hold the reader’s attention through the long section in which, aside from consumption of alcohol, hardly anything other than talk takes place.

Because the dominant mode of the narration is a kind of realism, the use of symbolism in terms of Grace’s name and her appearance at the conclusion of the story is an effective exception suggesting that Elliot might still be rescued. As Stone depicts her, unclothed in the window in the pale morning light, Grace is an emblem of hope, open and vulnerable. Elliot responds to this vision of grace—the word play obviously intentional—with the realization “that he could build another day on it.” This phrase is a variant of the well-known Alcoholic’s Anonymous credo of taking one day at a time and indicates that the...

(The entire section is 535 words.)