Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442

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“The Schreuderspitze” is not a realistic story, in the sense of depicting ordinary events in the waking lives of ordinary people, nor is it intended to be. Rather, it is a fable whose purpose is to compel belief in, or at least open the reader’s mind to, extraordinary spiritual phenomena. A fable is not limited in subject matter as a realistic story is; it can contain, as this one does, the stuff of dreams.

Much is customarily taken for granted. Here, for example, there is no close-up psychological examination of Wallich’s grief; it is simply a given. The fabulist has two methods of persuading the reader to believe in the strange events he or she depicts. One is the copious use of highly specific detail; the other, the use of a calm, authoritative, rather formal and distanced narrative voice.

The use of specific detail, although important throughout, is especially noteworthy in Mark Helprin’s descriptions of Wallich’s climbing dreams: “Anchoring two pitons into the rock as solidly as he could, he clipped an oval carabiner on the bottom piton, put a safety line on the top one, and lowered himself about sixty feet down the two ropes.” This kind of sentence is common, and it serves an important thematic function. To the reader, as to Wallich himself, the ascent is absolutely real, even though Walllich never climbs the mountain in body. Thus, by the end, the distinction between spiritual and bodily ascent becomes insignificant. Wallich has climbed the Schreuderspitze in the only sense that matters.

The voice must be established at the beginning, as it is here, so that the reader will at once be inclined to trust the author and listen openly to whatever he has to say. “In Munich are many men who look like weasels,” the first sentence of the story, is on the face of it a very odd statement. However, Helprin goes on to expand on it—the possible causes of such a phenomenon—as if it were a simple matter of fact, readily verifiable.

For the purposes of the story the statement becomes true, then, just as it is true later on that Wallich runs for four hours nightly through knee-deep snow (a feat beyond the strength of a world-class athlete), that high in the Alps he receives clear signals from a Berlin radio station, or (more crucially) that he has elaborate dreams that he remembers in perfect detail. There is no question of deceit between author and reader; the reader simply agrees to believe in order to be led, finally, to a profound and liberating idea about the nature of human life.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 145

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