Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The development of the imagery of flowers throughout the story is indicative of Cathcart’s long-drawn-out spiritual death. In a happy interval on the first island (which has many flowers and bushes growing on it), he is described as opening out in spirit like a flower. As soon as this happens, some ugly blow falls and crushes him. On the second island, which is more barren than the first, he works on a book about flowers and marries Flora (Latin for “flowers”), who has a child by him. This continues the theme of birth and blossoming of life, but in both these cases, the islander abstracts these elements from the vastness of nature and tries to bring them into his tiny sphere of influence. Then he retreats even from these abstracted representatives of nature: He withdraws from Flora and the child and loses interest in his book. He is interested only in taking refuge on a smaller, more barren rock of an island, from which he excludes all remaining life—the sheep, the cat, the mailmen. In his tomb-like world, even his final vision of the leaves of summer is a transient mirage, instantly overshadowed by the coming snows of winter.

Other images contribute to the sense of the island’s being a living, threatening entity: its resentful spirit coiled on itself like a wet dog coiled in gloom; its invisible hand that strikes malevolently out of the silence; its tendency to pick money out of pockets like an octopus with invisible arms.