Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Her Sweet Jerome” is narrated in a very quiet and controlled manner, and written with an ironic touch. Readers are led to see what goes wrong with the relationship of the two characters and discover for themselves the “sweetness” of Jerome. Her sweet Jerome beats her black and blue even before they marry; he quietly carries out his sweet readings, knowing that his wife is raging all over the town looking for his lovers. Ostensibly, he is very involved in the black revolutionary struggle for the rights and justice of his people, but his struggle is so narrow that it excludes his own wife’s sufferings. The reader soon sees the discrepancy between Jerome’s alleged fight and his cruel treatment of his wife.

In this story, Walker deliberately uses narrative description, rather than dialogue, to present her characters. A heated argument between the couple in the form of dialogue would too clearly betray their inner feelings of love and hatred. Instead, as an impassive spectator, one reads the descriptions of Jerome’s beating his wife black and blue; his muttered curses when she tries to kiss him good-bye, making her not know whether to laugh or cry; her mad searching for his lovers; and her almost ritualistic setting of his books on fire. It is this matter-of-fact description, rather than angry dialogue, that upsets the reader, haunting her or him with a picture that is clearer than the sound of words would be.

The ironic touch is best exemplified by the last scene in the story: the igniting of Jerome’s books. Here, Walker makes an ironic twist to demonstrate her female character’s madness. Mrs. Jerome Franklin Washington, III, is certainly not mad when she decides to destroy her husband’s books by fire because they are the very cause of her sufferings: like a human mistress, those books have usurped her rightful place as the wife of her husband; like an accomplice, they have joined with her husband in making a fool of her. She is sane enough to take her revenge by burning her husband’s books, the very things that he loves best; but she is crazy enough to think she can hide her face in her sizzling arms.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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