Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The basic narrative convention that Barrett uses in “Servants of the Map” is the form of the epistolary novel, popular in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, in which the entire story is told by means of letters. However, Barrett departs from the pure epistolary novel by interspersing the letters Max sends to Clara with comments by an omniscient narrator, who expresses the feelings of loneliness, despair, and confusion that Max believes he cannot or should not tell Clara. Furthermore, by having Max frequently comment on the very limitations of trying to communicate his feelings by writing letters, the story becomes less an attempt to replicate the old epistolary fictional form and more a self-reflexive exploration of the nature of that form.

An implication of the writing process of which Max becomes aware is the reader’s need to imagine what the writer can only hint at. Max asks Clara to imagine things he describes, for he says that when he tells her enough to let her imagine them clearly, he can imagine himself. Trying to discover the self through the act of writing thus becomes not only the central theme of the story but the central technique as well.

The fact that Max is writing to one that he loves makes the task even more difficult. For the writing process reminds him of the common lover cliché that “words cannot express” the way that one feels. In his letters, Max wants to communicate himself truly, but in letters...

(The entire section is 551 words.)