Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stylistically, “Theater” can be confusing at first, because its points of view are fluid, changing every few paragraphs. A narrator of sorts opens the story, but this voice changes from objective reporting to speaking for the characters. John and Dorris also speak for themselves, and many of their speeches begin with their names followed by a colon, as with lines in a play. Many lines are fragmented sentences, with spaces and repetitions: “Arms of the girls, and their limbs, which . . . jazz, jazz . . . by lifting up their tight street skirts they set free . . . (Lift your skirts, Baby, and talk t papa!)” The dream passage comes in short phrases and sharp images. Clearly, Toomer is manipulating point of view and language to capture the feeling of the music, and to force the reader to surrender intellect to feeling, just as John is asked to do.

A device that ties everything together is the image of walls. The opening paragraph describes the walls of the city buildings that seem to have a life and a music of their own. The singing and shouting of jazz mixes with the “tick and trill” of the walls. During the day the walls sleep, but at night they become soaked with songs. When John walks into the theater, “they start throbbing with a subtle syncopation.”

As the pianist begins rehearsal, the walls awaken; as the men and women dance, the walls begin to sing and press inward. It is this pressing inward, toward him, that John first...

(The entire section is 505 words.)