Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told for the most part from a limited third-person point of view that reflects Mosby’s ideas and opinions. At times, the narrative becomes first-person when Mosby writes. However, the third-person narrative may also involve Mosby writing his memoirs, because Bellow writes that at times Mosby speaks of himself in “third person as Henry Adams had done in The Education of Henry Adams,” a book first published privately in 1907, one of the most important American autobiographies.

The structure of the story is very complicated, switching from third-person to first-person narrative. This complexity mirrors Mosby’s mind. The story is also highly allusive: Mosby’s references to various philosophers, statespeople, anthropologists, and scientists show his feeling of superiority to his fellow human beings.

Bellow uses symbolism in connection with the Tule tree and the tombs at Mitla to show the way in which their vitality contrasts with Mosby’s lifelessness. The symbols show that heartless, lifeless Mosby deserves to be in what he considers purgatory or even a kind of hell.