Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Welty has stated that when an author is writing a story, “I think it may be wrong to try for beauty; we should try for other things, then hope.” In this story, one of the things Welty tries to achieve is a sensitive rendering of the setting, her native Mississippi. In order to portray the setting properly, Welty uses the technique of presenting Powerhouse first through the voice of the small-town white narrator, who vividly embodies the provincial sensibilities of this segregated community when he declares that “Powerhouse is not a show-off like the Harlem boys.” The narrator, however, is not comfortable with Powerhouse, and in the statement, “You know people on a stage—and people of a darker race—so likely to be marvelous, frightening,” the narrator’s fascination with, and fears of, Powerhouse emerge. Powerhouse is, after all, a black man performing before an all-white audience, but beyond that, he is the kind of person who will take one beyond the limits of his known existence, and such people seem dangerous.

The imaginative, creative power of Powerhouse is suggested by the story’s language, with its great, vibrant energy. The word patterns are intense and lyrical, particularly in the opening section, where a stream of phrases and incomplete sentences serves to generate the excitement of the subject and to take the reader beyond the limits of an ordinary story. Welty believes that “stories make words new,” and with her dynamic style in this story, readers feel as if they had never read these words before. In addition to her vivid, descriptive passages, Welty shows herself to be a master of dialogue, as the jive among the band members achieves its own kind of lyricism. The overall use of language is itself a tribute to the creative power of the imagination—this is one story wherein subject and technique are one, and, as in the highest art, are essentially indivisible. In telling the story of Powerhouse and his imagination, Welty achieves that beauty of artistic form that she believes to be the “reward” of the sensitive writer.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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