Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Collier creates horror by emphasizing the ordinariness of the Princey family. It could be any family dominated by a tyrannical father; this is Collier’s point. Collier creates his effect by an intricate flattening out of events so that no single event—such as the death of a man of God—seems more significant than any other to this family, and by the flat, cold, emotionless language with which the story is told. The language is that of journalism, and it creates the illusion of truth to life. It reminds the reader that horror can lurk anywhere, even in the tightly knit circle of a pleasantly respectable family on an ordinary rainy Saturday afternoon.

The language of Mr. Princey dominates the story and sets the tone. Whether he is giving his family a tongue-lashing or discussing the death of Withers and the possible death of Smollett, his words are totally devoid of any emotion. He can speak without pity of his daughter’s hanging, and he debates killing Smollett in the same language as he mentions shooting a rat. After George hits Smollett at his instruction, Princey politely apologizes; only a little while later, he frames Smollett for the clergyman’s murder.