Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this, as in most of Pritchett’s stories, there is little emphasis on plot as normally defined. Although there is a chronological order to the events of the story, these events seem almost incidental. Pritchett’s focus is on the characters and the surface details of their lives and surroundings. He presents these in a lean, uncluttered prose that deceives by its very simplicity. There are no verbal tricks or fancy literary devices in Pritchett’s writing, only direct, clear language that manages, in spite of its surface clarity, to suggest much more than it appears to say. Tone of voice, turn of phrase, and implication of gesture carry the burden of the story’s meaning. The reader who fails to pay close attention to these details will conclude that this is no more than an amusing anecdote about eccentric Londoners. The more careful reader, perhaps puzzled by the story’s inconclusive ending, will read again, this time relishing the details by which Pritchett reveals his characters. The tone throughout is wry and sardonic, as if the author were glancing out of the corner of his very keen eye at the passing human comedy. Pritchett’s art is his artlessness, his refusal to preach, moralize, or oversimplify. His broad and lasting appeal derives not from commentary on abstract issues but from his desire to reveal and understand the ordinary person and the defenses that all people erect to deal with the world and their own failures in it.