Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The virtues and shortcomings of Rotpeter’s talent as a mimic are readily apparent in the language and style of his address, which is an unconscious yet masterful parody of academic oratory. Its comic incongruities arise from the fact that he is so unaware of how empty and hollow his high-flown phrases sound. In proper deference to his learned audience, Rotpeter uses a considerable amount of metaphor, philosophical reflection, complex sentence structure, exclamation, and wit to tell his life story. Thus, he speaks of the five years that divide him from his apehood as “a time that is perhaps short when measured on the calendar, but infinitely long when galloped through as I did, accompanied in stretches by admirable men, advice, applause, and orchestral music, but basically alone, for all accompaniment kept itself—to keep to the image—far in front of the gate.”

Elsewhere, Rotpeter speaks of the drunken sailor wanting to “resolve the riddle of my soul,” of how his “ape nature raced rolling over itself out of me and away, so that my first instructor almost became apish as a result,” of his intellectual progress as a “penetration of the rays of knowledge from all sides into the awakening brain.” These rhetorical flourishes underscore both his shrewd verbal dexterity and the superficial and trivial speech of those whom he mimics so well.