Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The coherence of the narrative comes not from plot, for that would suggest a coherence of human events, but from a repetition of images, gestures, actions, and phrases. In general, the story illustrates that from beginning to end, the situation of civilization is getting worse, but the details of the narrative are not organized to demonstrate that. Two motifs, however, run through the entire story: the torture of a Comanche brave and the narrator’s preoccupation with women, including an unidentified “you” of whom he speaks yearningly. This combination of love and war in one narrative and in one person is itself a cliché, and through it Barthelme mocks popular literary tradition and also the American culture’s eagerness to romanticize war.

Barthelme’s methods can be summed up in two words: irony and parody. Both are forms of mimicry, commencing with someone else’s prior form and statement, and both are essentially negative responses to that original statement.

Barthelme takes the forms of conventional short fiction, but not for conventional purposes. The modern short story has developed a heightened sense of the significance of repetition: events, colors, gestures, and so forth. These correspondences are usually associated with meaning. “The Indian Uprising” illustrates the patterning and follows the forms, but denies the link with meaning. The Wild West fiction that Barthelme mimics would depend on a suspenseful plot and a...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Vietnam War During the 1960s
Barthelme wrote ‘‘The Indian Uprising’’ in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, one of...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Barthelme’s story is set in a city during an unspecified modern period. The unnamed narrator is telling the story primarily in the past...

(The entire section is 547 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1960s: The United States military drafts about 1.8 million young men to serve as soldiers during the Vietnam War. A man can qualify...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Donald Barthelme does not provide extensive backgrounds for the characters in his story. Choose two characters from the story and create past...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Barthelme’s first novel, Snow White (1967), is a satiric and humorous retelling of the famous fairy tale, complete with dwarves and...

(The entire section is 230 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Aldridge, John W., ‘‘Dance of Death,’’ in Atlantic Monthly, July 1968, p. 89.

Barth, John,...

(The entire section is 399 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hudgens, Michael Thomas. Donald Barthelme: Postmodernist American Writer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Molesworth, Charles. Donald Barthelme’s Fiction: The Ironist Saved from Drowning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Olsen, Lance, ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Summer, 1991).

Patteson, Richard F., ed. Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Roe, Barbara L. Donald Barthelme: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Stengel, Wayne B. The Shape of Art in the Short Stories of Donald Barthelme. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. Understanding Donald Barthelme. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Waxman, Robert. “Apollo and Dionysus: Donald Barthelme’s Dance of Life.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Spring, 1996): 229-243.