Leaving the Yellow House Style and Technique

Saul Bellow

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story is remarkable for its unusual point of view, moving back and forth from a third-person central intelligence to a first-person confessional. The effect suggests that sometimes the author speaks and sometimes Hattie. The authorial voice, although sympathetic, tends to be more objective, whereas Hattie’s voice is often lyric and subjective to the point of falsehood. Hence, the flickering point of view reflects Hattie’s own vacillation between honesty and self-deception.

When readers are in Hattie’s mind they find the world described in terms of simile and metaphor. For example, when Hattie is preoccupied with her dog Ritchie, the sofa cushions look like a dog’s paws. Life itself is a “hereafter movie” recording a person from birth to the grave. The camera angle is always from behind, suggesting that one cannot falsify this record. As one lives, there is less and less film available, and as one prepares to die, one must watch the whole film.

The story’s mixed chronology reflects Hattie’s thoughts in like manner. One leaps back and forth among different layers of the past, then ahead to the future, the reader’s confusion a strategic double to Hattie’s own perplexity.

The symbol of the house unifies a fiction that might otherwise seem as disjointed as Hattie’s mind. To Hattie the house symbolizes social position, achievement, and security. This meaning broadens when Hattie faces losing the yellow house, either by selling it to pay her medical bills or by dying and bequeathing it to someone. These are both ways in which she might have to “leave” the yellow house. In this sense, the material house becomes the outward sign of her tenuous hold on life.