Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Margins” first appeared in The New Yorker in 1964 and was collected in that same year with thirteen other Barthelme stories into a book called Come Back, Dr. Caligari. This story and other creations by Barthelme can be categorized as contemporary experimental fiction. He calls his stories collages, but the literary critic Granville Hicks described them as “controlled craziness.” They are exaggerated satires that allow glimpses into human life, but the incongruous dialogue and strange subject matter amuse at the same time that they appall. The humor can be termed black humor. There are absurd elements and mutual incomprehensions that are ludicrous. “Margins” uses a form of parody that imitates life to a certain extent but distorts it until it becomes ridiculous. Fun is poked at those humans who hope to control destiny by the modern “magic” of such things as handwriting analysis.

Plot is missing and character development does not occur. Dialogue is disjointed. Characters use slang as well as little-used words such as “eschatological,” a term dealing with humankind’s ultimate destiny.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hudgens, Michael Thomas. Donald Barthelme: Postmodernist American Writer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Molesworth, Charles. Donald Barthelme’s Fiction: The Ironist Saved from Drowning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Olsen, Lance, ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Summer, 1991).

Patteson, Richard F., ed. Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Roe, Barbara L. Donald Barthelme: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Stengel, Wayne B. The Shape of Art in the Short Stories of Donald Barthelme. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. Understanding Donald Barthelme. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Waxman, Robert. “Apollo and Dionysus: Donald Barthelme’s Dance of Life.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Spring, 1996): 229-243.