Christmas Gift by Robert Penn Warren, 1937
The magic trick:
Using zero interior monologue; relying on dialogue and action only to illuminate its themes
Interior monologue – or at least some narrative window into a character’s thoughts – is a very handy way for a writer to guide the reader toward a story’s theme.
“Christmas Gift” uses no such technique. The trick here is using no interior monologue at all. The reader is restricted to interpreting the action and dialogue only. We don’t get backstory or insight into unspoken thoughts.
It might sound simple, but it’s actually a subtle thing to pull off. Especially in a story as complex as this one. And that’s quite a trick on Warren’s part.
“We be leaving this year. We ain’t gonna have no truck no more with Mr. Porsum that ole son-of-a-bitch. He ain’t done nuthin like he said. He ain’t . . .”
“That’s what your pappy says,” the man said.
“My pappy says he’s a goddam sheep-snitchin son-a-bitch.”
The man stared through the isinglass pane, his sharp nose and chin sticking out in front, his head wobbling with the motion of the buggy. Then he opened his mouth: “I reckon Jim Porsum’s got something to say on his side.”
The boy took a stolen glance at the man’s face, then relapsed to the motion of the buggy. Out of the red mess of the road, limestone poked, grey and slick like wet bone, streaked with red mud. The wheels surmounted the stone, jolting down beyond on the brittle mud. On the bluff side the cedars hung. Their thick roots thrust from the rotten crevices of stone, the roots black with moss, garnished with ice; their tops cut off the light.
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One of my favorites!
I enjoyed the challenge of getting to know the characters without access to their thoughts. I had to figure them out by observing their behavior & listening carefully to their conversations. I loved the descriptions of the elements of the natural world.