Style and Technique
Welty’s use of point of view is essential to what is told, both on the surface and below; however, her style is equally important. It is deceptively simple: There are no long, involved sentences, little subordination, and no difficult words. However, her sentences are richly but unobtrusively metaphoric and imagistic. For instance, heat thickens, and a singer is “mosquito-voiced,” so that even the language makes sure the man and woman cannot escape the setting and people through which they move. Such language manages to suggest much more than the mere surface, deepening the complications of their relationship.
Because the authorial voice rarely comments on the emotions of the two, the story’s tone seems almost dispassionate. The two talk very little, thereby keeping their secrets. However, the contrast—clearly deliberate—between the story’s surface, with its brilliant visual imagery, and the hidden feelings paradoxically emphasizes those feelings. The two repress their emotions, but those emotions are therefore felt more strongly. Indeed, the story is one of contrasts: North versus South, the familiar versus the strange, heat versus (implied) cold, and emotional restraint against open emotion.
These contrasts also suggest that class, perhaps race, and certainly the expectations of age limit people’s emotional freedom. The southerners, obviously well off and white, who bring the man and woman together seem languidly satisfied with their lives. The man and woman, both entering middle age and also apparently financially comfortable, seem restrained by what is acceptable to people in their positions in life. Set against them are the lower class southerners, African Americans, and Cajuns, who, though oppressed by heat and poverty, seem much more alive. The Cajuns at the “beer shack” are a close-knit community, who are polite to outsiders and willing, within limits, to accept them. Their lives, despite the limitations placed on them, have purpose and intensity. At the end of a day of labor, they are enjoying themselves without self-consciously holding back, for that is what life is about. It is also about humanity, in the form of a small black boy who waves at the man and woman as they leave New Orleans on their journey of discovery and the young, poor boys on the ferry who demonstrate their sheer delight in being alive.