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.)