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.