Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Besides the tree and its blackbird occupant, “The Japanese Quince” has a number of other symbols. Both Nilson’s mirror, at which he gazes in the story’s second paragraph, and the scrolled stairs leading up to his house suggest the themes of self-knowledge and the aesthetic versus the pragmatic. When Nilson searches in his mirror to find the cause of the disturbing sensation, he mistakenly looks for the physical or superficial rather than within himself. At the story’s conclusion he remains a mystery to himself, like a scroll (the shape of his stairs) that has remained wound up rather than being unrolled and read. Conversely, what he is missing from life is, at the same time, suggested by the mirror and stairs. Though his hand glass has its practical side (literally), its back is made of ivory, which is there for its aesthetic appeal. Though his stairs are eminently usable, their scrolled design is beautiful rather than utilitarian.

That the Japanese quince is enclosed in the “Square Gardens” suggests a social and human-made confinement of nature, paralleling the main characters’ repression or walling off of things natural. The tree and blackbird themselves have manifold symbolic aspects. The blackbird resembles in some respects both Nilson and Tandram. They are both dressed in their business “uniforms” of formal black frock coat; they, like the blackbird singing in the tree, have been emotionally stirred by spring and the Japanese...

(The entire section is 465 words.)