Style and Technique
Williams’s style in this story is one of surface gentleness that masks the great cruelties of life that lurk just below the surface. In this story, having assumed the persona of a pubescent boy, the author never deviates from that point of view. Readers see the world that Williams is revealing to them just as a twelve-or thirteen-year-old child would see it. No omniscient insights destroy the illusion Williams initially creates.
Williams’s women cannot accept realities. They have enough of the southern lady about them to be exceedingly vulnerable to the hurts that are a part of daily life for most people. They agonize over what to most people would seem to be routine events. In dealing with her daughter’s first menstruation, Tom’s mother (and the grandmother as well) makes of it something almost mystical rather than something quite natural. The message the young girl derives from this is that women are supposed to be sickly during their menstrual periods. She learns quickly that her expected behavior must demonstrate her delicacy, and in meeting her parental (and grandparental) expectations, she sows the seeds for a life of emotional delicacy and physical weakness.
In this story, one sees the interplay of love and death that literary critic Leslie Fiedler finds at the heart of much American fiction. The title bears the suggestion, and the story carries it through. One might ask, “Who is dead?” Is Tom’s sister really not more dead than Richard Miles? She has experienced a death of the soul, while Richard has lived his life vitally, self-assuredly. He remains a vivid memory in the minds of those whose lives he touched.