Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins with the deceptively simple and formulaic language of the fairy tale: “There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck.” This language underscores the inappropriateness of a life lived, as Hester lives it, in the belief that just as in fairy tales, luck and happiness are unpredictable because they come from the outside rather than being matters over which the individual exercises some control.

The supernatural elements in the story, rather than providing an opportunity for escape, augment its sense of reality. The futility of the materialistic quest, and its lack of destination, are well symbolized in Paul’s frantic riding of his rocking horse. That the house whispers “There must be more money” seems not so much a supernatural or magical element as a brilliantly sustained metaphor for the unspoken messages that shape and often take over the life of a family. In all, the story is a brilliant study in the sustained use of symbolism to suggest with bold economy the death-dealing consequences of the substitution of money for love.