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.