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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bulosan creates an atmosphere of utter dreariness by using a flat, almost monotonous prose style. His third-person point of view enhances the sense of detachment that his protagonist experiences. The most conspicuous technique in the story is its lack of specific names, dates, places—in short, any concrete references. This keeps the reader at arm’s length from the narrative, thereby helping the reader to experience feelings of exclusion similar to those of the protagonist. Bulosan is so careful about the indefiniteness of his story that he does not refer to specific devices, clothing styles, vehicles, events, or other objects or contrivances that might enable a reader to localize either a time setting or a place for the story.

There is room for doubt about the protagonist’s soundness of mind, although the third-person narrative stance militates against suspecting the reliability of the plot happenings. Why does the protagonist withdraw into a shell when doing so is obviously painful to him? At times one may detect inconsistencies, as in the oxymoronic expression “watching his shoes move and gleam in the glare of the faint light.” However inclined a reader may be to see the plot as revealing the unraveling of a mind, the coherence of the symbolism works against a deconstructionist reading of the story. The “young men and women of many races” mentioned in the first part of the opening paragraph are neatly paralleled by the different colors of curtains that the narrator later buys. Both represent life, vitality, fecundity and are subtly linked by the “little voices” (the children’s) mentioned in paragraph four, which urge the protagonist to look out again at the girl on the college lawn. The statement in paragraph nine that “she had become a part of his whole existence” explains why he buys curtains to match her sweaters and skirts: Doing so symbolically brings her into his world. The tragedy—as he finds out to his cost—is that the world cannot be brought into the self; the self must go into the world.

The progression of the seasons reflects the human life cycle of growth to maturity and is an indication that if one does not mate when the time is right (in spring or summer), one suffers the spiritual death of aloneness. The sight of the girl causes within him “a flood of sunlight.” However, the protagonist fails to act on the cue that external nature provides him in the spring: “The students walked on the pathways in groups and in twos, reading books and looking at the spring sun. Their heads glowed softly in the sunlight, their young mouths opened...

(The entire section is 648 words.)