Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

In his postmodern rebellion against the traditional surprise endings of many modern short stories, Englander gives his short stories endings that are seemingly weak. In the case of “The Twenty-seventh Man,” the story ends simply with Bretzky, one of the writers, shot several times and living long enough to realize that he has heard the guns and is dying.

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Englander has been called the heir apparent to Bernard Malamud, who in turn has been called the king of the American Jewish story. Shorter forms of writing have held an important place in the works of Jewish writers such as Malamud, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, and Isaac Bashevis Singer as well as in the Yiddish literature of the nineteenth century. Englander, like Malamud, interweaves traditional and modern elements using characters who struggle in the modern world while carrying the emotional baggage of the old life.

Even though the protagonist, Pinchas, has only a few moments of recognition when he recites the story he creates in the prison cell, he seeks to prove himself worthy of being in the company of such august writers. Writing and recording are the tools of a writer’s trade. The twenty-six established authors represent an eminent selection of the surviving Yiddish literary community in Europe. Pinchas represents not only the new generation of Yiddish writers but also the audience necessary to continue the existence of the Yiddish literary community. Stalin’s mass execution was an attempt to destroy the future of Yiddish writing in Russia.

The use of the third-person omniscient narrator allows the reader to become a voyeur and witness these individuals’ last moments. Englander uses Yiddish words without italics or explanation, as if they were common parlance among his readers. Through this technique, he incorporates Yiddish into the dominant language, ending its life as a unique, separate language, and he thereby emphasizes the deaths and end of the Yiddish writers.

A story within a story is a device that has been used effectively by many writers, including William Shakespeare. Unlike the stories of the other twenty-six writers, Pinchas’s masterpiece is created and stored within his mind and is never written down. Through his creation, Pinchas has his moment of fame, which propels him into the spotlight enjoyed by the twenty-six other writers. Although Stalin had stripped everything—pen, paper, readers, publishers, and the next generation—from these writers, they retain their creative minds until their very last breaths.

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