‘The Pocketbook Game’ by Alice Childress

The Pocketbook Game by Alice Childress, 1956

The magic trick:

Using a one-sided conversation to make the story all the more personal

I like a good second person narrative. It makes the reader feel part of the story. In this very brief tale, that direct connection is nearly conspiratorial. The thing is, it’s not really true second person. The narrator is talking to someone who never talks back. It’s a one-sided conversation that makes it feel like we’re the one on the receiving end of the story.

So, the narrator tells us a very serious story about some nasty casual racism. A third person narration would almost undoubtedly put the reader on her side. But the almost-second person just makes it all the more personal and all the more powerful. And that’s quite a trick on Childress’s part. 

The selection:

Marge . . . Day’s work is an education! Well, I mean workin’ in different homes you learn much more than if you was steady in one place . . . I tell you, it really keeps your mind sharp tryin’ to watch for what folks will put over on you.

What? . . . No, Marge, I do want to help shell no beans, but I’d be more than glad to stay and have supper with you, and I’ll wash the dishes after. Is that all right? . . .

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