Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Long descriptive passages and very little dialogue characterize Stafford’s style in “The Interior Castle.” The descriptions of painful clinical procedures implicate the reader in Pansy’s pain. The details are precise, and the descriptions of how the pain feels are evocative. Long paragraphs and complicated, carefully formed sentences recall the style of Henry James; like James, Stafford reports each minute detail of a mental state.

Stafford uses flashbacks and association to show how Pansy’s mind works. Pansy does not think sequentially or logically. Only a very few images in her mind are associated with names, suggesting her lack of attachments. The narrative follows the drifts of her consciousness. Thus there is little conversation—only the few remarks that are important to Pansy are recorded. She thinks of years as having particular colors. Pink is the most important color, the color of her brain; concentrating on it can bring her ecstasy. However, she also has negative real-world associations with the color pink, having to do with the inappropriate hat she wore to the autumn party. She must drown out the real-life pink, as well as the gray of the winter world outside the hospital, with the fantasy pink. The author skillfully weaves back and forth between Pansy’s remembered world and the one she has created to replace it.

Stafford uses techniques of psychological realism to portray a young woman who seems to have little experience in her past and nothing to look forward to, and who clings desperately to a fantasy world that enables her to escape from a painful present.