Style and Technique
Short-story writers or novelists undertake few challenges as difficult as telling their tale by using an immature narrator. Entrusting the boy to tell the story related in “Spring Victory” was a venture full of pitfalls for Stuart, and his ability to sidestep so many of them is one mark of his accomplishments as a writer of short fiction. The primary problem of this device is that the narrator cannot seem more mature than his years allow, yet he or she must be capable of giving the insights that the writer wants to convey—about the people in the story, about the interpretation of their actions, and about life in general. A story concocted by a real child is full of childishness, but readers of serious fiction expect a story to be coordinated and meaningful. Satisfying the expectations of readers while giving the illusion that the story is actually being told by a child creates a situation in which the believability of the action, let alone the believability of the narrator’s character, is constantly in danger of rupture.
Through a careful manipulation of the narrator’s language, through his tone of voice as well as through what he merely implies, Stuart makes both the action of the story and the character of the young narrator seem real. The narrator’s terseness shows a child not yet very proficient in his use of language, yet his observations are keen and vivid nevertheless. Stuart balances the boy’s personality, which at times is almost too good to be true, with his ignorance of life. It comes as a shock to the narrator that the doctor has been summoned to assist his mother with the birth of a child. His sister is surprised to learn that the boy never noticed that his mother was pregnant, yet the reader understands the limitations of inexperience better than she, and such details bring the boy alive and compensate for those times when the reader would have been lazy or complaining if he or she had been asked to do the narrator’s chores or suffer his privations.
One need only try to imagine the story told by the mother or the father (or by an omniscient narrator) to see the harvest that Stuart reaped by putting the words in the mouth of the boy. What Stuart learned about life, about love, and about family from his experience of the grueling winter of 1918 was apparent to even a child, and it was the kind of lesson that would stay with him through adolescence, through the time when he would learn his native tongue well enough to tell others what he found valuable enough, many years later, to turn into literary art.