Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Critical reactions to Stafford’s writings have been largely favorable, although Stafford’s novels have been criticized for their lack of distance from autobiographical material and their tendency to be overwritten. Joyce Carol Oates applies this criticism to Stafford’s short stories in her 1979 essay ‘‘The Interior Castle: The Art of Jean Stafford’s Short Fiction,’’ in which she wrote, ‘‘Some of the stories, it must be admitted, are marred by an arch, overwritten self-consciousness, too elaborate, too artifi- cial, to have arisen naturally from the fable at hand.’’ However, Stafford’s short stories from the mid-1950s were generally reviewed very positively, and The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970. ‘‘In the Zoo’’ won the O. Henry Memorial Award for best short story of the year in 1955, and Oates cites its climax as a brilliant moment from one of Stafford’s finest ‘‘[s]ubdued and analytical and beautifully-constructed’’ stories.

Critics consider Stafford a realist writer, and, as Jeanette W. Mann writes in her 1996 Dictionary of Literary Biography entry on Stafford: ‘‘The critical response to Stafford’s fiction has also been within the conventions of the realistic tradition; the standard critical readings of her work are historical and biographical.’’ Criticism that specifically discusses ‘‘In the Zoo’’ tends to take the position that the sisters have...

(The entire section is 317 words.)