Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Territory” is a third-person narration that alternates between the present action of Neil’s visit and the past action of his sexual history, which is disclosed in a series of flashbacks. These flashbacks bring Neil into focus in a way that the present action of the story cannot. Certain information is divulged in these flashbacks to which only Neil and the reader are privy, Neil’s sexual history, for example. By learning Neil’s sexual history, the reader becomes more sympathetic to his situation. In fact, Neil’s sexual behavior is no different from most heterosexual behavior; he has settled down with Wayne after a more promiscuous stage that he admits “had been brief and lamentable.”

On another level, the flashback technique affords a more telling description of Mrs. Campbell. Though she is seen as gracious and liberal in the present action, a more fragile side of her character emerges in the flashbacks. During the gay pride march, her political savvy and her motherly good intentions crumble when confronted with “a sticklike man wrapped in green satin [whose] eyes were heavily dosed with green eyeshadow, and his lips were painted pink.”

Finally, the alternating narrative structure is itself a territory of sorts. One moment the reader sees a group picture, something at a medium distance, the next moment a closeup, a memory, something more revealing and microscopic. Neil’s consciousness acts as a lens, a focusing mechanism, a surveyor’s tool that delineates for the reader where one boundary ends and another begins.