With the eye and the language of a poet, Brooks offers a surface of social realism within which the psychological realities of Maud Martha’s thoughts are probed. The opening paragraph describing the pastor watching the departure of the funeral procession has already suggested the shallow reality of surfaces. “It was impossible to tell just what he was thinking,” Brooks reminds the reader as she re-creates him; her suggestions range from thoughts about death or its accoutrements to the irrelevance of “strawberries.”
Even language can be as shallow as visual surfaces if one does not plumb its depths, and Brooks forces one to read every word of her story thoroughly before exhausting it of meaning. Again, the first paragraph introduces this stylistic density as she describes the quiet closing of the casket lid “to avoid jarring the family.” Not only does this shift the reader’s focus from the dead man to the surviving family, where it belongs, but it also contains the double meanings for “jar” of upsetting or enclosing. Maud Martha has been “jarred” in her marriage and is about to be “jarred” out of it.
In a story thematically concerned with the limits of physical reality, Brooks also conveys the power of that reality as she personifies the fire as an “invader” eating the trapped “flesh” of the streetcar passengers. The emotions of the women are similarly given physical reality as “ripped-open wounds” and...
(The entire section is 536 words.)