Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Betts’s short stories are vivid examples of moments in individual lives isolated in time. Utilizing a “slice-of-life” approach allows Betts clearly to depict the epiphanic moments of realization that most humans experience at one time or another. Thus, through her brief trip in search of rejuvenation, Violet Karl becomes an “everyperson.”

Violet Karl’s journey is an internal journey, one that will be completed only after she accepts herself and ceases to worry whether others accept her. Betts demonstrates, through Violet’s isolation because of her injured face, that psychological pains are as real as physical pains. In both cases, however, the pains can be overcome with time and proper treatment. Monty’s lack of revulsion at Violet’s injury goes a long way toward demonstrating that others can accept her, helping her to accept herself as she is.

The surface simplicity of the structure of “The Ugliest Pilgrim” in fact provides the work’s deeper complexity. In this work, Betts allows her story’s form to match its thematic function. Violet’s problem seems to be simple. If she can get to Tulsa, her problem will be solved. Below Violet’s surface, however, the reader finds a more debilitating problem, lack of self-esteem. The reader also finds that beneath a simple narrative form is a universal theme that is complex in both cause and resolution.