Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Landolfi’s word choices and sentence structures differ from some of his other short fiction in being simple in this story, helping to impart to it a fablelike quality. While some of Landolfi’s other fiction uses more polysyllabic and abstract words, almost all of his work has the same kind of vivid symbolism as this story. In this tale, for example, almost all the details of the sweep’s clothing are evocative, from the earthiness suggested by the brown of his corduroy suit’s hue of “linseed oil” and his brown shirt, to his “two huge mountain boots.” The weight of his boots also suggests the earthbound, though they also hold him “erect,” counteracting his stoop, and point, contradictorily, to both aspiration and rising sexuality. The name of the material in his suit evokes aristocracy, as “corduroy” was originally thought to mean “cloth of the king”—a sharp contrast with the sweep’s social class. In its liquid stickiness linseed oil suggests the by-products of lovemaking; in its hardening property, which is used for protective coating in paint and varnish, it suggests the coating of the chimney and the bride’s ignorance, to be assailed by sweep and groom, respectively.

The coating that the sweep dons—ironically, in order to uncoat the chimney—is a black “gag” resembling a mask that covers his nose and mouth; it suggests the opposition between articulate and inarticulate, plus sweep and groom as masculine rapacious, intrusive robbers of a sort. The sweep’s revelation that he violated prohibitions against picking...

(The entire section is 639 words.)