Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrative is divided into three distinct parts. The first section recounts the fact of the doctor’s injury and his hiring of a student-doctor. In the second section, which deals with the two stories told by the physicians (first about the white horses, then about the grasshopper and the clown), the omniscient narration shifts temporarily to the limited view in the thoughts of the wife, then the student-doctor. The shift from limited to omniscient continues throughout the remainder of the narrative. The major part of the interior monologue, however, is concerned with the thoughts of Dr. Heine. The senior physician’s thoughts are never revealed except through dialogue. The third section is the shortest and is concerned only with the events of July 24 and the final significant thoughts of Dr. Heine.

The most important symbolic aspect of the narrative is the setting, and without its specific chronological frame the events would be largely meaningless. Even seemingly minor facts significantly affect the characterization. The fact, for example, that the older doctor was a prisoner of the Russians (“in Siberia”) during World War I influences his political ideas and suggests motivation for his Nazi sympathies.

Boyle skillfully uses a totally uninflected (almost documentary) style in the initial sections of the tale, only gradually exposing the thoughts of the wife and the young Jewish doctor; she finally abandons the earlier narrative mode in the third and final section as the emotional development of the author’s idea reaches its climax.

It may be pertinent to Boyle’s purpose that only Dr. Heine, the student-doctor, is given a specific personal identity. The other characters in the story, both major and minor, are identified only as “the doctor,” “his wife,” “the Burgermeister,” “the Apotheker” (druggist), and so forth. This device tends to focus the reader’s attention and sympathies more exclusively on the young doctor’s view of events, which is clearly the intention of the author.