Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sontag allows the portrait of Max and the responses of his friends to his disease to filter gradually through the many voices of her story. No voice is dominant. Max is rarely heard speaking in his own voice, although his plight is discussed in nearly every sentence of the story. Consequently, the blending and clashing of voices reveals a society in argument with itself, testing ways of responding to AIDS, advancing, then rejecting, certain attitudes.

As in real conversation, voices overlap one another so that one statement is interrupted by another, and one speaker merges into another: He seemed optimistic, Kate thought, his appetite was good, and what he said, Orson reported, was that he agreed when Stephen advised him that the main thing was to keep in shape, he was a fighter, right, he wouldn’t be who he was if he weren’t, and was he ready for the big fight, Stephen asked rhetorically (as Max told it to Donny), and he said you bet.

In this example, the views of several friends are heard, and dialogue is recapitulated in what Max tells Donny. Sentences contain speeches within speeches, a complex layering of social and psychological observation that is emphasized by long sentences that continually switch speakers, so that a community of friends and points of view is expressed sentence by sentence.

It is the rhythm of these voices, of the ups and downs in their moods, of the phases people go through in responding to the...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Gay Liberation in the 1970s
The story takes place in the mid-1980s, after AIDS had begun to decimate the gay population of Manhattan...

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
The story's point of view is the most striking stylistic element of Sontag's story. It is told in the third...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

1. Why do you think that Sontag chose to tell the story from the perspective of the AIDS patient's many friends? How would the story be...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1984: There are 4,177 reported AIDS cases in the United States, with 1,600 of these in New York City. Homosexuals, Haitians,...

(The entire section is 306 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

AIDS is a relatively new disease and only recently has there been a focus on the plight of its victims and their families. In the past...

(The entire section is 158 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Known both as a writer and theoretician, Sontag has held positions at various universities. She began publishing essays and book reviews in...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

I, etcetera (1978), a collection of witty and inventive short stories by Sontag, concerns human behavior in the modern world.


(The entire section is 179 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Costa, Marithelma, and Adelaida Lopez, ‘‘Susan Sontag: The Passion for Words,’’ in Conversations with Susan...

(The entire section is 317 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kennedy, Liam. Susan Sontag: Mind as Passion. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Poague, Leland, ed. Conversations with Susan Sontag. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.

Poague, Leland, and Kathy A. Parson, eds. Susan Sontag: An Annotated Biography, 1948-1992. New York: Garland, 2000.

Rollyson, Carl. Female Icons: Marilyn Monroe to Susan Sontag. New York: iUniverse, 2005.

Rollyson, Carl. Reading Susan Sontag. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

Rollyson, Carl, and Lisa Paddock. Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

Sayres, Sohnya. Susan Sontag: Elegiac Modernist. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Seligman, Craig. Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me. New York: Counterpoint, 2004.