Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

The voice of the first-person narrator plays an essential role in conveying the meaning of this story. This unnamed denizen of Thomasville is perhaps a more insightful person than he might have been thanks to Miss Leonora’s influence. In the narrator’s genteel southern style, one notices Miss Leonora’s solid grounding in English and Latin in his use of future perfect tenses and the subjunctive mood. He displays wit in his description of the recalcitrant Logans, who fended off progress and the railroad in the nineteenth century. The narrator is, however, a product of the town and can understand both the city fathers and Miss Leonora. This delicate balance is one of Peter Taylor’s best stylistic achievements. The reader is alternately directed toward sympathy with Miss Leonora and understanding of the town’s point of view throughout the story. One must draw one’s own conclusion about the justice of the matter, although Miss Leonora seems to have the edge. In the end, Miss Leonora has more than an edge and the town’s reasoning is seen as specious but fallacious, as well as uncharitable. Taylor, the puppeteer of the story, engineers these shifting reactions.

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Verisimilitude is also an important stylistic feature of the story. Thomasville is typical of a sleepy southern town of the 1950’s; it complacently enjoys its present, while harboring grudges dating from the nineteenth century and worrying about the coming of integration. Although the milieu that Taylor depicts is southern, the types of human nature displayed in the town are universal. The town fathers cloak their cruelty toward Miss Leonora in civic piety and the law. This universality, which is more reminiscent of William Faulkner than it is of other writers of manners to whom Taylor has been compared—such as John Updike and John Cheever—makes “Miss Leonora When Last Seen” one of his strongest stories.

Because much of the story is retrospective, Taylor’s narrator employs the selective nature of memory in telling Miss Leonora’s story, somewhat in the manner of Tennessee Williams’s outstanding memory plays, such as The Glass Menagerie (first performed in 1944). Vivid scenes such as the one in which she gives the black child the book stand out; less vivid scenes recede or are not told to the reader at all. In a real sense, this is the story of the narrator as well as Miss Leonora. She touched his life early, and she will continue to be an influence. The town is upset about Miss Leonora at the time of the story, but it will salve its insensitive conscience and go on. Taylor leads the reader to see that his narrator will be faithful to Miss Leonora in memory and in life, much as Tom is faithful to the memory of Laura in The Glass Menagerie. The lens of memory may be a selective one, but it endures. The last literal sighting of Miss Leonora in Thomasville will not be the last sighting in the narrator’s mind. Taylor shows the reader that Miss Leonora accomplished more than she realized, a life beyond life in the mind of the narrator.

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