Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560

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A term frequently applied to Hempel’s short fiction is minimalism—a technique that creates fiction that is deceptively simple and realistic. At its best, minimalism creates a concentrated and uncluttered narrative. In addition, it is a style that also reflects the characteristics of the short story, the genre that best houses minimalism. Both minimalism and the short story rely heavily on figures of speech and the baggage of connotation attached to each. Metonymy is the basic trope for realism, and metaphor is the basic trope for poetry. Minimalist stories are realistic in that they use metonymy such as the joke or the arm wrestling references in this story. The joke that the young girl tells is a tiny anecdote within the short story, yet it not only reflects the whole idea of this story, it also gestures toward the larger text of a universal condition in which humanity is no longer located in strong family units and no longer able to address emotions directly. Instead, the human condition represented here disallows words and dislocates language as a means of emotional survival. The references to the arm wrestling contest and the reasons given for the trio not going to the event refer to the same sort of human condition, “The best one could hope for was dislocation”—not just of someone’s arm (rather than being broken under the old rules), but also dislocation of emotions, language, and meaning.

Everything left out of a minimalist short story is as important as the things that remain. In this story, for example, there is never any mention of the children’s mother (the father’s former wife), but she is present as part of the dislocation caused by divorce. Likewise, the names of the characters are left out of the story; this omission gives the story a universal dimension because the characters’ anonymity suggests that they could be any father and children who are characters in the drama and effects of divorce. Further, many things are not said by the narrator to the reader; many more things are not said by the characters among themselves. To omit a word, to say something indirectly, to rely on meaningless phrases for communication—all are the most emphatic means of stressing the importance of what has not been said, which in this case seems to be that a divorce has disrupted this family unit, that the father does not feel himself to be a part of his children’s lives, and that he is afraid to let them know that he cares about them.

The details of the day’s events are relayed by an omniscient third-person narrator, who does not intrude on the story by commenting or making any evaluations, leaving readers to watch and listen to an apparently objective report on the events of this day and the dialogue exchanged among the three characters. The readers are thus left to draw their own conclusions. In employing this type of narrative technique, Hempel presents the reader with a narrator who, in fact, practices what the story appears to preach: Do not point out the problem if you see it; just accept what is what and go on about your business. If you must say anything, say it indirectly, as with the father’s assessment of his children’s condition: “There is no bad news.”