Style and Technique
The language used in the story is deceptively plain and simple and thus underlines the mounting horror and wonder. The fact that Millhauser does not name the assistant although he names each of the volunteers makes Hensch and his assistant seem to be a single, outside unit, in contrast to the volunteers, who are members of the community. The story suggests that a community can be spellbound temporarily by influences that are simply passing through; however, as the outcome of the story indicates, the community will be forever changed as a result. The story bears a resemblance to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in its mythic yet specific setting. However, in “The Knife Thrower,” the reader comes to realize that the evil in which a community partakes is often invited in and acts as a scapegoat for the community’s inability to face its own dark side. The community leaves the scene affirming the need for making a living but blaming Hensch for going too far. What this last line reveals is that the audience, even after such a terrifying performance, refuses to accept that Hensch himself does not go too far; rather, the audience not only encourages but also needs Hensch to perform for them so that they may be reaffirmed in their provincialism and may persist in their righteousness.