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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

A Prosperous Nation?
For many Americans, the 1950s was a decade of economic prosperity. Unemployment and inflation...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Leaving the Yellow House’’ is told chronologically. The beginning of the story gives relevant...

(The entire section is 747 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1950s: An annual middle-class income ranges between $3,000 and $10,000 annually. More than 60 percent of Americans fall into...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

How do you think Hattie will react to her situation the following day? Write a scene that could come at the end of the story, showing...

(The entire section is 184 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Saul Bellow’s 1956 novella Seize the Day tells of a significant day in the life of down-and-out Tommy...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Katz, Bill, Review in Library Journal, October 15, 1968, p. 3797.

Kiernan, Robert F.

(The entire section is 185 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bradbury, Malcolm. Saul Bellow. New York: Methuen, 1982.

Braham, Jeanne. A Sort of Columbus: The American Voyages of Saul Bellow’s Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984.

Cronin, Gloria L., and Leila H. Goldman, eds. Saul Bellow in the 1980’s: A Collection of Critical Essays. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1989.

Cronin, Gloria L., and Ben Siegel, eds. Conversations with Saul Bellow. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

Goldman, L. H. Saul Bellow: A Mosaic. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

Hyland, Peter. Saul Bellow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Newman, Judie. Saul Bellow and History. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Siegel, Ben. “Simply Not a Mandarin: Saul Bellow as Jew and Jewish Writer.” In Traditions, Voices, and Dreams: The American Novel Since the 1960’s. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995.

Trachtenberg, Stanley, comp. Critical Essays on Saul Bellow. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.