The Kugelmass Episode Style and Technique

Woody Allen

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Kugelmass Episode” is a very amusing story, and its humor is that of a network of incongruities. There is a striking disparity between anxious, balding Kugelmass and the glamorous life that he would lead. The reader laughs at his pretensions and groans for his frailties. Kugelmass is yet another version of the distinctive Allen persona, familiar from other stories and from Allen’s film roles. He is a contemporary American reincarnation of the Yiddish schlemiel figure: the hapless man who, according to the Yiddish proverb, falls on his back and breaks his nose. Though Sidney Kugelmass, whose very name ludicrously undercuts his romantic aspirations, has failed at everything, including freshman English, he naïvely keeps returning for more.

After Emma and Kugelmass exchange their first remarks, the reader is told, “She spoke in the same fine English translation as the paperback.” By the end of the relationship, Emma is complaining to Kugelmass that “watching TV all day is the pits.” Much of the humor in this story results from juxtaposing the florid style of a literary classic—about a woman steeped in literary rhetoric—with the casual vernacular of a modern, irreverent New Yorker. Kugelmass holds a respected social position and is in awe of Emma Bovary, but his speech is laced with outdated proletarian slang: “sock it to me,” “scam,” and “jitterbug.” His streetwise talk is as affected as are provincial Emma’s aristocratic...

(The entire section is 417 words.)