Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Allende has said that she tries “to write about the necessary changes in Latin America that will enable us to rise from our knees after five centuries of humiliations.” Specifically, she writes all of her stories for a young woman in Chile whom she hardly knows. Whenever the author is “tempted by the beauty of a sentence” and “about to betray the truth,” she thinks of the candid face of the woman in Chile, and then tells the story in honest, unpretentious prose.

“Toad’s Mouth” typifies this style. Its descriptions are concise, playful, and rich with metaphor. Tierra del Fuego breaks up “into a rosary of islands,” while the headquarters for Sheepbreeders, Ltd., rises “up from the sterile plain like a forgotten cake.” The plot itself holds both humor and political commentary; Pablo’s seduction of Hermelinda is both sexually outrageous and symbolically tragic.

The characters in “Toad’s Mouth” represent forces larger than themselves. This encourages the reader to interpret the story on a broad scale. The peasants at Sheepbreeders, Ltd., are conquered financially by the English couple, then spiritually by the lone horseman from Spain. They are left with nothing to look forward to, because Hermelinda is gone forever. This is not just the tale of one tiny community in Chile. “Toad’s Mouth” is the story of Latin America, and of what is lost when a society is dominated by outside forces.