Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Problems facing the narrator as storyteller are complex and everywhere expressed. The narrator questions whether thirteen-year-old Ambrose is capable of thinking the thoughts being attributed to him. The narrator discusses plot structure and wonders how in the world the story he is telling can be graphed along Freitag’s Triangle, representing exposition, complication, rising action, climax, and denouement or resolution. The narrator talks about literary symbols and mentions that, for example, diving into a pool would make a suitable symbol. He questions the relevance of the war to the story and inquires of himself whether there should be fireworks. He discusses the use of italics, inverted tags, and first-order and second-order metaphors. He worries over whether he is providing sufficient sensory detail to render the texture of the experience.

At the same time that the narrator discusses these elements of fiction, he puts them to work. For example, in the paragraph in which he discusses the use of italics, he italicizes five passages. When he analyzes the appropriate use of point of view, he points out that the closer authors are to a character, the more they need to distance themselves from that character. Consequently, if the narrator is Ambrose, he would appropriately use the third-person point of view that he does.

Though a description of the contents of “Lost in the Funhouse” suggests a tone of high seriousness, such is not the case at all. The story is based in a series of comic juxtapositions appropriate to the controlling metaphor of the funhouse. In a funhouse, one can get lost in secret mazes and experience fear and panic. Still, the overriding reason one enters a funhouse is to have fun; and a reader knows, if Ambrose does not, that whether the boy grows up to create funhouses or to go through them, he will certainly survive the awkwardness of adolescence.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Literature of Exhaustion
In 1967, Barth published a now famous essay describing what he believed to be the state of literature...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Barth’s use of metaphor in ‘‘Lost in the Funhouse’’ is anything but subtle. On several occasions the...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Although Barth abandoned his early formal study of music, he remains interested in it. In fact he said in an interview that as a writer he...

(The entire section is 143 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1964) by Irish writer James Joyce is a classic coming of age story about a young man and is...

(The entire section is 122 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bowen, Zack R. A Reader’s Guide to John Barth. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Fogel, Stan, and Gordon Slethaug. Understanding John Barth. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Harris, Charles B. Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Morrell, David. John Barth: An Introduction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

Schulz, Max F. The Muses of John Barth: Tradition and Metafiction from “Lost in the Funhouse” to “The Tidewater Tales.” Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Scott, Steven D. The Gamefulness of American Postmodernism: John Barth and Louise Erdrich. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

Waldmeir, Joseph J., ed. Critical Essays on John Barth. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

Walkiewicz, E. P. John Barth. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Ziegler, Heide. John Barth. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Cassill, R. V. Review of Lost in the Funhouse. Book World, Sept. 15, 1968, p. 16.


(The entire section is 160 words.)