Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

By using the device of an observer-narrator, Oates is able to tell the story from the point of view of a young girl, but with an emphasis on the actions of the adults. Sylvie observes and records the actions of the main characters, but she does not see into their minds. There are gaps in the story because of Joan’s flight and the narrator’s confusion about what has happened. Although Sylvie continues to observe her uncle, she never really understands him either.

Oates describes the small details of ordinary contemporary scenes. The love story begins in the harsh, cold light of the swimming pool of the YMCA with its antiquated white tiles, wired glass skylight, and sharp medicinal smell of chlorine. Joan’s apartment building is shabby and worn with a “weedy back yard of tilting clotheslines and wind-blown trash.”

The sentence structure itself reflects the action. In two long, smooth sentences of almost eighty words each, Oates describes Joan’s style of swimming as “a single graceful motion that took her a considerable distance.” Oates uses a long, graceful sentence to describe this type of stroke. The only scene of violence in the story comes up suddenly. Waxman appears without warning and the situation explodes in violence almost immediately. Oates describes this scene with speed. Clyde reacts with quick actions, animal-like responses. She uses phrases such as “Waxman leapt after her” and “Clyde . . . scrambled forward ....

(The entire section is 479 words.)