The Puzzleheaded Girl Analysis
by Christina Stead

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In creating the enigmatic Honor Lawrence, Stead provides numerous details about the urban poverty in which the girl grew up and still lives. Repetition and accumulation of detail are among Stead’s typical stylistic devices.

The generally loose structure of Stead’s plots consists of scenes in which character is slowly revealed. In this way, “The Puzzleheaded Girl” moves around in time, unified by a series of encounters with Honor Lawrence as she pursues her haphazard life. In many scenes, the girl speaks for herself in dialogue, oration, argument, or justification. There is no authorial interpretation; when not speaking for herself, Honor is seen through the eyes of the other characters as they meet her or talk to each other about her, usually with very different views. The irony created by the different characters’ expectations of Honor is the central device providing tension in the story.

A master of dialogue, Stead has her characters speak in an ordinary way, but Honor’s speech is simple and stylized, almost childlike. This adds to the irony, for in some ways the girl is very clever, which is only slowly revealed. Stead’s story ultimately assumes an almost mythic quality as Debrett muses on Honor’s puzzling character, pondering what he calls her “sacred character, those the gods love, or hate: it’s the same.”