Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Reminiscent of another writer who also challenged the status quo with radical politics, Bertolt Brecht, Paley employs innovative techniques that undermine narrative conventions. In “The Long-Distance Runner,” she may have deliberately employed Brecht’s idea of the “alienation effect.” By calling attention to the artistic nature of the play (its artifices), Brecht deliberately destroys the illusion of verisimilitude and the “you-are-there” emotional absorption in the story that writers traditionally have sought. By confounding an audience’s expectations and making them keenly aware of the difference between reality and fantasy, he wants to emotionally distance his audience from the dramatic action in the hope that the audience will ponder the social problems that the work presented.

In “The Long-Distance Runner,” Paley produces the alienation effect by including details that destroy the illusion of verisimilitude and remind the reader that this is a story deliberately crafted by the writer for a purpose. For example, the narrator deliberately undermines the story’s verisimilitude by admitting her inability to decide on an age for Mrs. Luddy, “a slim woman whose age I couldn’t invent.” Like Brecht, Paley does not want the reader to become totally immersed in the story. She calls attention to the artificial nature of storytelling, reminding the reader that this is a made-up story, not reality, so that the reader can be detached and critically consider the complex social problems that are at the core of the work.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Gender and Racial Prejudice
In the nineteenth century and through much of the twentieth century, when white middle-class women...

(The entire section is 345 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

“The Long-Distance Runner” takes place mostly in Brooklyn, New York, in the childhood neighborhood of Faith Asbury....

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1970s: After decades of resistance to the distribution of contraceptive information or devices, contraception devices are now...

(The entire section is 326 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research urban decay in the early 1960s, and make a chart that correlates social unrest of various forms with the rate at which urban poverty...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Grace Paley’s essays are collected in Just as I Thought (1998). This compilation includes her views on topics ranging from abortion...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Aarons, Victoria, “A Perfect Marginality: Public and Private Telling in the Stories of Grace Paley,” in Studies...

(The entire section is 208 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Cevoli, Cathy. “These Four Women Could Save Your Life.” Mademoiselle 89 (January, 1983): 104-107.

DeKoven, Marianne. “Mrs. Hegel-Shtein’s Tears.” Partisan Review 48, no. 2 (1981): 217-223.

Gelfant, Blanche H. “Grace Paley: Fragments for a Portrait in Collage.” New England Review 3, no. 2 (Winter, 1980): 276-293.

Harrington, Stephanie. “The Passionate Rebels.” Vogue 153 (May, 1969): 151.

Iannone, Carol. “A Dissent on Grace Paley.” Commentary 80 (August, 1985): 54-58.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Grace Paley: The Sociology of Metafiction.” In Literary Subversions. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

McMurran, Kristin. “Even Admiring Peers Worry That Grace Paley Writes Too Little and Protests Too Much.” People 11 (February 26, 1979): 22-23.

Paley, Grace. “The Seneca Stories: Tales from the Women’s Peace Encampment.” Ms. 12 (December, 1983): 54-58.

Park, Clara Claiborne. “Faith, Grace, and Love.” The Hudson Review 38, no. 3 (Autumn, 1985): 481-488.

Scheifer, Ronald. “Grace Paley: Chaste Compactness.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheik. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985.

Smith, Wendy. “Grace Paley.” Publishers Weekly 227 (April 5, 1985): 71-72.

Sorkin, Adam J. “Grace Paley.” In Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Writers, edited by Daniel Walden. Vol. 28 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984.

Sorkin, Adam J. “What Are We, Animals? Grace Paley’s World of Talk and Laughter.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 2 (1982): 144-154.