The White Horses of Vienna Analysis

Kay Boyle

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Austria in the 1920s
Knowledge of the political and economic situation in Austria in the 1920s and 1930s is essential to...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The doctor’s marionette show functions as a satirical allusion for the political difficulties between Germany and...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: Austria’s government is ruled by a series of dictators: first Engelbert Dollfuss, then Kurt von Schuschnigg, and after the...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

• Conduct research to find out more about Austria in the 1930s. Why did so many Austrians support Nazism? What kinds of people tended to be...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

• Hugh Ford’s Four Lives in Paris chronicles the lives of four American expatriates who lived in Paris in the 1920s: Boyle, the...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Bell, Elizabeth S. Kay Boyle: A Study of the Short Fiction, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1992.


(The entire section is 297 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Austenfeld, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Bell, Elizabeth S. Kay Boyle: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle.” English Journal 42 (November, 1953): 425-430.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle: The Figure in the Carpet.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 7 (Winter, 1964/1965): 65-78.

Chambers, M. Clark. Kay Boyle: A Bibliography. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2002.

Elkins, Marilyn, ed. Critical Essays on Kay Boyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997.

Ford, Hugh. Four Lives in Paris. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.

Lesinska, Zofia P. Perspectives of Four Women Writers on the Second World War: Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Rebecca West. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

Mellen, Joan. Kay Boyle: Author of Herself. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Moore, Harry T. “Kay Boyle’s Fiction.” In The Age of the Modern and Other Literary Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.

Porter, Katherine Anne. “Kay Boyle: Example to the Young.” In The Critic as Artist: Essays on Books, 1920-1970, edited by Gilbert A. Harrison. New York: Liveright, 1972.

Spanier, Sandra Whipple. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

Yalom, Marilyn. Women Writers of the West Coast: Speaking of Their Lives and Careers. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1983.