Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like the other stories in I Am One of You Forever, “The Storytellers” is firmly rooted in a literary tradition that pervades southern literature, that of the Old Southwest humorists, who set their stories in the frontier settlements of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Their humor, which often involved accounts of coarse practical jokes, and their tall tales, based on folklore and merging into myth and fantasy, influenced writers from Mark Twain, the author of Huckleberry Finn (1884), to William Faulkner.

Uncle Zeno’s final story refers to a practical joke, described in detail in “The Good Time,” which involved substituting pullet eggs for the fillings in some fine chocolates that Annie Barbara Sorrells would naturally bring out on the next social occasion. Such anecdotes, showing a triumph of crude nature over what pioneers saw as pre-tentious and artificial gentility, are typical of the Old Southwest humorists. Like them, the author of “The Storytellers” also delights in tall tales, such as Uncle Zeno’s accounts of the clocklike bear and the analytical dog.

It is just a step from such comic exaggerations to more serious fantasy, and here Chappell’s technique most clearly reflects his theme. In Jess’s confusion about Uncle Zeno’s actual visits, in his final description of his father’s disappearance, and even in Zeno’s unstructured stories themselves, there is more mystery than certainty in “The Storytellers.” Thus Chappell illustrates his belief that, as the true artist knows, there is no real distinction between the seen and the unseen, the world of fact and the world of fiction.