Style and Technique
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.