Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In keeping with its narrator’s moral simplicity, “Pet Fly” is a conventionally plotted, straightforward narrative. Things happen in cause-and-effect pattern, and the chronology of the piece is realistically presented and preserved. Like John Updike, Walter Mosley has chosen an environment and situation with which most modern urban readers can identify. The method is so subtle that “Pet Fly” may seem like a sexual harassment prevention scenario such as those developed for job training purposes. There is more to the story than that, however, and focusing on the ways in which Mosley has made Rufus a sympathetic character should help the reader realize the dramatic potential of several recent developments in American culture.

Because of his choice of first-person point of view, Mosley cannot realistically render the thoughts of any character except his narrator. This lends some delightful ambiguity to the story, as is evident in the scene in which Rufus is promoted. Either Rufus’s silence suggests that he shares Mr. Averill’s opinion of women or it implies that he is not an insensitive lout who is guilty of harassment. Somehow, Mr. Averill finds it to be the proper response and dismisses the accusations. He could be acting out of sympathetic misogyny or because he understands that Rufus is essentially incapable of the brutish behavior the harassment charge suggests, but his motivation is lost behind the impenetrable barriers of age and race that separate the boss from the narrator.

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(The entire section is 620 words.)