Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jacobson’s methods, here as elsewhere in his work, are subtle. The style is quiet, and the language does not reveal, except by inference, the feelings of the author. Jacobson chooses to let scene support characterization, as when he shows the lack of true family bonds in Harry’s life by saying that the doors in his house were “curiously masculine in appearance, like the house of a widower.” The manner of his writing most resembles that of Anton Chekhov, one of Jacobson’s masters. The story is told simply, without comment, and the reader is left to reach his own conclusions about the material.

These methods contribute to the power of the story. The terrible pathos is enhanced by the quiet unfolding of the story, and the three-part plot seems painfully inevitable. The problem of what to do with the old man is defined; the advent of Paulus solves the problem but makes matters worse for Harry; finally, the old man dies and Harry is forced to grieve, not because of the death but because of the realization that he once was what the pathetic Paulus is now. Not that Jacobson tells the reader what Harry realizes. He merely lets Paulus speak, and Harry’s response tells the rest. Nothing has happened in a sense, but everything has happened.