Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is related in simple declarative sentences but with an intensity and emotion appropriate to a soldier waiting for battle to begin. More unusual as a literary technique, the story is told in the present tense. The narrator recites his observations and his feelings as they occur while waiting until the orders are given to engage the enemy. He is not relating the events after the fact.

The author successfully develops his themes over the course of the story. As noted, light is an important reference in “North Light.” In the first paragraph “The sun shines from behind, illuminating with flawless light” and in the last paragraphs it is the north light that dominates. When the story begins, the prevailing emotion is fear, which gradually turns to anger before the company embarks into the valley.

Finally, there is the subtitle: “A Recollection in the Present Tense.” Helprin tells the story through a first-person unnamed narrator using the present tense, but the use of the word “recollection” suggests that the narrator survives the coming battle in the valley to later relate the story, although in the present tense. The word “recollection” has another implication. The narrator’s discovery that anger is the answer to the question of why men fight is recollected from his earlier experiences in the Six-Day War.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alexander, Paul. “Big Books, Tall Tales.” The New York Times Magazine 140 (April 28, 1991): 32.

Keneally, Thomas. “Of War and Memory.” Review of A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. The New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1991, 1.

Lambert, Craig. “Literary Warrior.” Harvard Magazine (May/June, 2005): 38-43.

Linville, James. “Mark Helprin: The Art of Fiction CXXXII.” The Paris Review 35 (Spring, 1993): 160-199.

“Mark Helprin’s Next Ten Years (and Next Six Books) with HBJ.” Publishers Weekly 236 (June 9, 1989): 33-34.

Max, D. T. “His Horses Used to Fly.” The New York Times Book Review, November 7, 2004, p. 24

Meroney, John. “’Live’ with TAE: Mark Helprin.” The American Enterprise (July/August. 2001): 17-20.

Rubins, Josh. “Small Expectations.” Review of Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin. The New York Review of Books 30 (November 24, 1983): 40-41.

Solotarfoff, Ed. “A Soldier’s Tale.” Review of A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. The Nation 252 (June 10, 1991): 776-781.