Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Greene employs a first-person narrator in order to arrange a surprise ending for the story. Like the skeptical narrator, the reader must wait until he obtains a glimpse of David’s collar at the conclusion to the story before he realizes that Blacker was the catalyst that led the young David to become a priest and a happy man.

Greene is careful to keep his agnostic narrator from drawing any conclusions about David’s providential tale and from articulating any moral judgments about either David or Blacker. This allows the reader to frame his or her own interpretation of the story. Is Blacker, as his name implies, a creature of pure evil? Is Blacker actually an unwitting servant of God’s divine providence? Is David, perhaps, the self-proclaimed hero of his own adventures? David’s assertion at the end of the story that he is a very happy man may, indeed, indicate a troubling complacency in one who is a priest. Where is his sympathy or compassion for Blacker, who is, after all, one of God’s creatures? The pity that David recalls feeling for Blacker is not a redemptive emotion; rather, it indicates his sense of superiority over the deformed and obsessed baker.

Adding to the story’s ambiguity, David was raised in a predominantly Protestant market town in East Anglia, and the Protestants were quite hostile toward the few Roman Catholics. David’s school nickname, for example, was “Popey Martin,” and his father was nearly excluded from a local club because of his religion. Given this sense of isolation from the community at large, David might understandably develop a distorted view of people outside of his own religious circle, a distortion that could inevitably lead to an exaggerated sense of his own victory over Blacker’s villainy.

The narrator’s final remark to David, “I suppose you think you owe a lot to Blacker,” furthers the ambiguity of the tale. Recalling that the narrator is an agnostic, the reader is inclined to emphasize the phrase “you think” in that last statement. The implication is that although Blacker may indeed be the unwitting servant of God’s providence, he may be so only in the narrow focus of David’s dramatic and self-serving account of his childhood. After all, David clearly makes himself the hero of his own story.