Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This, Gaines’s most widely reprinted story, is told through a notable blend of soft-focus narration and sharp-focus dialogue. Its frame is the mind of a cold, hungry, confused half-asleep six-year-old. This long day has been the most bewildering of his short life. At the same time it has made him unusually alert—to the point of precise transcriptions of the adult conversation flowing around him. Drawn from African American oral folk tradition, this dialogue ranges from Eddie’s garrulous confusion, mirroring Sonny’s, to Madame Toussaint’s gnomic certainties. The differences between men’s and women’s language provide one of the leitmotifs of the tale.

There are few resources in the quarters, hence the struggle to preserve the ones there are. On one level, it is an account of how much can be achieved with so little. Although much is at stake in the story, it is told in a relaxed, humorous vein that pulls the reader into its orbit. Because Gaines remains so close to his characters, his readers cannot feel above them. Mama tells Daddy: “Go back to your car. . . . Go rub ’gainst it. You ought to be able to find a hole in it somewhere.” Whenever he is bedeviled by something or someone, Sonny throws the only object he always has with him—his chamber pot. By the end, readers have joined the author in a total and sympathetic immersion in the characters—understanding of all, superior to none.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Babb, Valerie Melissa. Ernest Gaines. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Beavers, Herman. Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Carmean, Karen. Ernest J. Gaines: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Davis, Thadious M. “Ernest J. Gaines.” In African American Writers: Profiles of Their Lives and Works, edited by Valerie Smith, Lea Baechler, and A. Walton Litz. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

Doyle, Mary Ellen. Voices from the Quarters: The Fiction of Ernest J. Gaines. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.

Gaudet, Marcia, and Carl Wooton. Porch Talk with Ernest Gaines: Conversations on the Writer’s Craft. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

Lowe, John, ed. Conversations with Ernest Gaines. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1996.

Simpson, Anne K. A Gathering of Gaines: The Man and the Writer. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, 1991.