Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Broyard’s decision to write “Sunday Dinner in Brooklyn” in the first person and in the past tense provides the intimacy and perspective necessary to convey the story’s theme. Paul’s surname is not mentioned, nor are the first or last names of his parents. Such names are not only unnecessary for the purpose of communicating the story, they are even inappropriate designations when perceived from the narrator’s viewpoint. The lack of such names reinforces the idea that Paul is indeed Everyman. Like most young adults, Paul is incapable of conceiving of his parents as entities whose identities can be separate from his; to him they are “my father” and “my mother,” not “Mr. and Mrs.”

To achieve a rich, yet declarative style punctuated by subtle humor, slight ennui, and startling imagery, Broyard loads his language with similes, metaphors, and personifications. The story’s first sentence reads: “I took a roundabout route to the subway, and because I was going to Brooklyn the Village seemed to have at the moment all the charm of a Utrillo.” Comparing Greenwich Village to a Maurice Utrillo painting creates a specific visual image, while also allowing Broyard to suggest something of Paul’s eager worldliness, education, and self-conscious, youthful snobbery.

The story’s second paragraph begins: “Since it was summer, the Italians were all outside on stoops and chairs or standing along the curb in their Sunday clothes, the old men in navy blue and the young men in powder blue suits, as though their generation was more washed out than the last.” Broyard’s simile here reinforces his theme that Paul’s generation relinquishes stability for seemingly less-substantial individuality. This is especially true of those like Paul who seek their identities away from the steady sameness of their parents’ solid lives in favor of finding new, post-World War II identities in such teeming communities as Greenwich Village.

Broyard’s dependence on figurative language permits him to avoid overwriting so that what remains unstated is implicit, ensuring that his occasional short, simple sentences deliver a punch.