Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ellen Gilchrist’s powerful and effective use of Rhoda as a first-person narrator helps to bring out these themes without making them hackneyed or didactic. Readers can perceive the hypocrisy in Rhoda’s brand of romantic idealism, but she cannot—which makes her delivery of it that much more effective. Gilchrist effectively combines character development with narrative tone that makes the telling of the story inseparable from understanding Rhoda as a character. Although she lives for such drama, the irony is beautifully rendered as her own shock at the magazines overtakes her love of the sensational, and finally, although perhaps it has affected her more profoundly than Billy’s rabies shots ever did or will, she does not disclose it in the same way at all. In fact, the narrative technique is one in which the disclosure is ironic. It is revealed by virtue of the fact it was never something she could figure out how to tell her mother, unlike the other things with which she rushed home in the hope of gaining approval.

There are also images in the story emphasizing the titillating sexual disclosure more blatantly exposed in the magazines: a glimpse of underpants from the monkey bars, the liquid hose that Rhoda’s mother paints on her legs, a bathing suit and towel thrown down on the sidewalk. Juxtaposed with these images of vulnerability is the rhetoric of combat used to fuel both the paper drive and Rhoda’s ambitions and fears. The rabies shot and the bomb are the core images around which this juxtaposition takes place.