Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s shifts in point of view enable juxtaposing two characters’ thoughts in order to bring out similarities and contrasts. For example, Cleotha’s observation of an orchard and her reverie on petals and peach stones contrast a faith opening up and out to the world with Arlene Latcher’s musing on her education and a painting of virgin martyrs, which reveals a belief in withdrawal from people and experience. As Miss Latcher’s reverie on the painting is escapist, so is Jodey’s mental review of his “fantastic scheme” for converting useless tumbleweed into salable fuel, these thoughts diverting his attention from the death of his daughter in the tumbleweed fire.

Horgan’s manipulation of point of view is also notable in the cryptic use of often-italicized personal pronouns, especially “she,” as well as in his concluding shift in verb tense. The former device helps convey Jodey’s guilty uneasiness for having been in part responsible for depriving his wife of their daughter. Thus, he tends to think of Cleotha obliquely as “she” and “her,” until, when he is absolved at the story’s close, Cleotha becomes “his wife” in Jodey’s thoughts. Also in the story’s last paragraphs the startling shift into the present tense helps vividly actualize the narrative statement about the graveside mourners, that “Everything left them but a sense of their worship, in the present.” The verb-tense shift thematically suggests the importance of heightened awareness of all of life, moment by moment.

The story is pervaded by symbolism. One symbolic pattern of imagery encompasses the repeated references to flora and fruitfulness. The journey’s destination is the town of Weed, the name of which...

(The entire section is 712 words.)