Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s use of a first-person narrator may be a weakness, because the narrator is not necessarily easy to identify with. The story’s strongest, most effective technique is its use of detail, specifically the overwhelming accretion of the grotesque and the frightening, such as a woman whose tongue has swollen to hideous proportions, “the dirty yellow-soled bare feet” of patients lying on their sides during lumbar punctures, a story about the bombing of London that Miss Milleravage punctuates with a smile, the soulless and depressing objects of the office, the patient who is pathologically afraid of dirt and contamination, the bare light bulbs in their wire “cages,” and the neat cot where the narrator is to be held down and have electricity run through her brain.

Another effective and daring technical accomplishment of the story is its shift from ostensible realism to ostensible madness. The story begins as the realistic account of a high-strung but apparently normal young woman who has a secret hobby. She works in an office, where she happens to be fascinated with the dreams that are recorded in the medical record books. She eats lunch and reflects on the character of the people with whom she works.

Early in the story, it is daytime in a normal, recognizable world. Then the narrator waits for night to fall in the dark of the rest room, and a world of gothic horror replaces the sane one. In this other world, Johnny Panic rules...

(The entire section is 519 words.)