Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland Analysis

Carson McCullers

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of McCullers’s stories, “Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland” is narrated almost exclusively from the point of view of one particular character—in this story, Mr. Brook. Thus, what the reader knows of Madame Zilensky is filtered through Mr. Brook’s consciousness; the reader can know only what Mr. Brook knows or surmises about Madame Zilensky. The reader is thus forced, in a sense, to accept Mr. Brook’s interpretation of Madame Zilensky’s motive for dissembling. Actually, however, Mr. Brook arrives at the reason he does (that she lies in order to render the vacant expanses of her soul more habitable) because in her he sees his own life—carried to an extreme. In his view, she is a woman who is so obsessed with her work that there are no free hours in the day. Mr. Brook does have his quiet hours at night, with his brandy and his poetry book; he envisions none of that in her life: “All her life long Madame Zilensky had worked—at the piano, teaching, and writing those beautiful and immense twelve symphonies. Day and night she had drudged and struggled and thrown her soul into her work, and there was not much of her left over for anything else.”

However, as different as Mr. Brook and Madame Zilensky are, they are in an unlikely way bound together in their respective solitude, in their unshared desolation. He has recognized in her a soul mate of sorts: a lonely human being. This is brought forcibly home to the reader when...

(The entire section is 412 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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