Residents and Transients Style and Technique

Bobbie Ann Mason

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mason uses a first-person narrator to reveal the main character’s attitudes through a series of interior monologues. As Mary struggles to make decisions about her life, she focuses on ordinary, everyday activities, such as playing Monopoly and watching cats. Mary’s life is portrayed in surface details, in descriptions of the house and the cats. She describes other characters in the way they react toward money and possessions. At times, the possessions reflect another aspect of a personality. For example, Larry’s truck “has a chrome streak that makes it look like a rocket,” and the doors are painted with flames. Perhaps the truck represents the conservative dentist’s wild past.

Mason describes scenes in brief, vivid passages. While they are eating in a restaurant, Mary studies “the saw handles, scythes, pulleys . . . mounted on wood like fish trophies.” This arrangement of farm tools represents an important part of the community’s past. When Mary and Larry circle West Kentucky in Larry’s small plane, they get an aerial view of “eighty acres of corn and pasture, neat green squares.” Mary loves this part of Kentucky, whether viewed from a distance or up as close as her parents’ farmhouse with the “old white wood siding, the sagging outbuildings.”

Mason uses symbols to illuminate the story. The rabbit, for example, is caught in the middle of the road, trying to move with its front legs, grounded by its crushed back legs. Mary is like the rabbit—grounded, unable to move. The word processor, an impersonal, fast-moving machine that spews out words, is a metaphor for the rapid changes going on in the world.

Mary exists suspended between nostalgia for the past and apprehension about her future. The thought of selling her parents’ house and moving to Louisville leaves her feeling rootless. Her relationships are unraveling. She is separated from her husband; her parents are more concerned with their lives in Florida than in what is going on at their old home. Mary will be forced to leave the house, because her parents need the proceeds from the sale to buy their condo in Florida. Because Mary has made no decision by the story’s end, the story is left unresolved. The story closes with the image of the cat’s eyes showing both red and green.