Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Schulz is a consciously symbolic writer. As he stated in another story, “Spring,” “Most things are interconnected, most threads lead to the same reel.” Any detail in the universe may be relevant to any puzzling question in the universe.

The most visible symbol in “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” is the color black. It is found everywhere: on the mysterious train, in clothing, leaves, beards, the telescope, and the eyes of the terrible dog. There is a crescendo of black, enhancing the impact of the last three scenes: the outbreak of war (the black uniforms), the unchaining of the dog-man (black eyes and beard), and Joseph’s end (a beggar in a black hat). In a similar manner, other recurring images also help to unify the story’s tone and structure.

Schulz also practices a technique of extended and vivid metaphor that is uniquely his, and he hints at his other craft (he was a painter and art teacher):I broke a twig from a roadside tree. The leaves were dark, almost black. It was a strangely charged blackness, deep and benevolent, like restful sleep. All the different shades of gray in the landscape derived from that one color. It was the color of a cloudy summer dusk in our part of the country, when the landscape has become saturated with water after a long period of rain and exudes a feeling of self-denial, a resigned and ultimate numbness that does not need the consolation of color.