Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ferber attributed her descriptive economy to her training as a journalist in which she learned to describe human beings with only a few words. In “The Three of Them,” as in many of her short stories, Ferber begins with a description of the locale that has a direct bearing on her characters’ reactions to events. When Ferber is entirely in control of her material, as she is in writing “The Three of Them,” physical details introduced in the description function symbolically to represent the psychological realizations of her characters. The reader may recognize the three stern knitting women in Geisha’s audience as modern representations of the classical Fates, but the effect is not dependent on the reader’s recognition of the allusion.

Critics have charged that Ferber’s style is overly didactic and that she uses her narratives to moralize on contemporary issues. Because Ferber writes in the third person, using the point of view of an omniscient author, it is easy for her to explain to the reader exactly what point she is making. This makes her work seem dated to those who are accustomed to a more suggestive, less direct approach to narrative. Ferber does sometimes use her omniscient narrators to reveal the perceptions and values of a particular character, but she also manages to suggest these values in brief dialogues. In “The Three of Them,” the concluding dialogue between Nellie and Martha over Martha’s preference for plain and homely fare, suggests the wholesome values that Martha represents.