Style and Technique

At the beginning of the story, the narrator establishes the metaphor that identifies the summer game of croquet with the nature of the artwork. The game, he says, seems to be composed of images the way a painter’s abstraction of the game would be built of them. The wire wickets set in the emerald lawn and the colorful wooden poles stand out in a “season that was a struggle for something of unspeakable importance to someone passing through it.” The formal design of the game is like a painter’s abstraction; likewise, the characters become images and abstractions. They are not so much real people as stylized gestures pictorially woven within the lyrical narrative that is the legend of Brick Pollitt. The narrator says that the bits and pieces of his story are like the paraphernalia for a game of croquet, which he takes out and arranges once more in the formal design of the lawn. “It would be absurd to pretend that this is altogether the way it was,” he says, “and yet it may be closer than a literal history could be to the hidden truth of it.”

The narrator’s engagement in the formally controlled patterning of the artwork that one uses to control the contingency of life is the same game that Brick plays with croquet. He is drawn to Isabel because her actual encounter with the contingency and horror of flesh during the time her husband was dying reflects his own fear of flesh. To engage in the summer game is thus to run out of something “unbearably hot and bright into something obscure and cool”—to run out of the unbearable world of existential reality into the cool, ordered, deathless world of the artwork.

When Brick realizes that form must inevitably become involved and entangled with the...

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