Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Marie Lazarre’s narration is down-to-earth, laden with pungent metaphor and psychologically acute. In a manner reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, she moves between the language of the unlettered country girl (“They don’t want no holy witness to their fall”) and the astuteness of the clinician: “Veils of love which was only hate petrified by longing—that was me.” Both statements epitomize the story’s multiple levels of meaning. The drunkards do not want the nuns to see them literally falling down outside the bar, nor, thinks Marie, do they want witnesses to their “fall from grace.” The veils remind the reader of the nun’s veil to which Marie aspires (to hide her origins?), but the veils are really stone, that frozen immobility of hate and longing that barricades and conceals the vulnerable and misused little girl.

Christian themes and allusions enrich the story. Sister Leopolda’s hooks, first on the long oak window-opening pole and then on the poker, recall two biblical hooks: the shepherd’s crook, adopted as a symbol of bishops’ guidance and authority, and fishhooks, reminiscent of the New Testament passage in which the apostles are to become “fishers of men” and “catch” souls for Heaven. Marie compares herself in her naïve faith to a fish that has taken bait, and at the end of the story she squirms like a gaffed fish in her recognition of Sister Leopolda’s pathetic hunger for love.

This comparison is one of many references to food and eating throughout the story. Further paralleling the comparison of fish’s...

(The entire section is 642 words.)