Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Keller’s source for the subject matter of his seven legends was a rather poorly written book of legends published in 1804 by the pastor Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten. Keller gently parodies the pastor’s portrayal of the saints by shifting the emphasis from the divine to the worldly. Although Keller’s legends are short and apparently simple, they underwent many revisions between the first version of the late 1850’s and the version presented for publication in 1872.

The parodistic element in the dance legend lies in Keller’s subtle mockery of the heavenly figures, who are not to be taken seriously. Martha “had donned her prettiest kitchen-apron, and the sweetest little spot of soot adorned her white chin.” By elaborating on the trivial, Keller implies that there is nothing of substance in Heaven. Sugary appearances are matched with frivolous behavior: The cherubs use flattery to obtain fruit, and David flirts with lovely Erato.

In contrast with such superficial entertainment, the Muses’ song, full of longing and sorrow, evokes a profoundly emotional response. They sing not of shining rewards but of “the burden of earth-woe.” The vicissitudes of life are real and vastly preferable to the monotony of an eternally pleasant Heaven. The Muses themselves are portrayed as serious and ambitious musicians, in contrast to David’s band of little fellows with dimpled little legs.

Keller’s criticism is unmistakable, yet the...

(The entire section is 449 words.)