What We Don’t Know Hurts Us by Mark Schorer, 1947
The magic trick:
Using the Josephine character as a mouthpiece for the story’s central philosophy
The more I read these short stories the more I realize there is only one magic trick, and it’s all about the reveal. How much of your theme do you dictate to your reader? How much of it do you let them figure out? That’s really it.
“What We Don’t Know Hurts Us” pretty explicitly gives the reader the psychology behind the action. It isn’t overbearing, though. The trick is pulling it away from the narration and using one of the characters as a mouthpiece. Specifically, the mother in her argument with her husband about his parenting techniques the story’s main themes: the distance between motivations and actions and the ways we affect each other’s decisions and feelings. It is nothing close to subtle but nor is it a soapbox moment. Very sneaky. And that’s quite a trick on Schorer’s part.
“You forced his admission. Did that gain you anything? And what did it lose? How much did it hurt him? Is it of very great importance whether he stole it or not?”
“I don’t know what’s more important.”
“No, I really think you don’t.”
“What’s more important is why he took it, and what he did with it, and why he did that. What’s more important is that he’s a miserable little boy, and you haven’t made the slightest effort to understand that. All you’ve done is played the heavy parent, shown him that you don’t trust him or believe him, and left him with a nice new layer of solidified guilt, and what is he supposed to do with that?”
“”Let’s skip the psychology for a change,” Charles said. “There is an old-fashioned principle of honesty and dishonesty.”
“There’s a more old-fashioned one of simple perception.” Josephine’s face was red with anger.