Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The dark and unpleasant atmosphere of Berlin and its impact on Charles is made vivid through Katherine Anne Porter’s use of animal imagery, which sometimes borders on caricature. Repeatedly, she turns to various animals to help her characterize the people of Berlin whom Charles finds so distasteful. They are often compared to pigs who waddle down the sidewalk or who have enormous rolls of fat across their backs. In one remarkable scene, porcine Berliners gather to gaze longingly at a shop window full of hams, sausages, and bacon, next to another window displaying various pigs made of candy, wood, or metal. Porter then describes these Berliners as “shameless mounds of fat” standing “in a trance of pig worship, gazing with eyes damp with admiration and appetite.” A description of the landladies of the city brings forth a torrent of unpleasant animal comparisons: “They were smiling foxes, famished wolves, slovenly house cats, mere tigers, hyenas, furies.” In addition to animals, Porter focuses on the furnishings of rooms and the decorations of Berlin to emphasize the essential grotesquerie of the city. Charles at one point closely examines a dozen repulsive pottery cupids on a steep roof and speculates on the unrefined taste of their owners.

The season of the year also helps to underscore symbolically Charles’s psychological state. Besides the darkness of late December, the dying year is an appropriate time for the demise of Charles’s...

(The entire section is 481 words.)