Point of View
In his review of A Day in the Dark , Edwin Morgan writes, “in this rich selection of her short stories the communication is often an ambiguity or a mystery which the imagination of the reader must try to unravel or complete.” One way Bowen accomplishes this is by relating the plot through the narrator’s limited point of view. Barbie tells the story as an adult but refuses to add any details that she did not observe or conclusions she did not make during that afternoon. At one point, she claims that memory has failed her and that she has lost half of her conversation with Miss Banderry. This truncated version forces readers to think about omitted parts of the experience and ambiguous parts of the story, like Barbie’s sense of danger and dread. Yet this narrative technique provides a truer portrait of Barbie’s experience, that of a young girl confronted with disturbing realities and trying to make sense of them.
Bowen’s vivid descriptions of the setting provides meaning that deepens readers’ understanding of the story. In his review of her collection of short stories, F. L. H. quotes Bowen as writing (in the Preface to her collection of short stories): “On the whole, places more often than faces have sparked off stories. To be honest, the scenes have been before me before the characters.” She spends a good deal of time in “A Day in the Dark” setting the scene in which Barbie learns about the complex adult world she is to enter. In the beginning of the story, Bowen juxtaposes images of life, transition, and decay, suggesting the movement from innocence to experience, which becomes the story’s main theme. The opening image is one of transition, of one coming over the bridge and seeing the “faded air of importance” that characterizes the terrace, where, appropriately, Miss Banderry lives, and nearby the ruined castle. Barbie is literally the one in transition, as she walks from the prosperous town square to Miss Banderry’s faded house, where she is to lose her innocent vision of the relationships between men and women.
Also, the castle juxtaposed with the row houses under the bridge suggest the transition in generations of Miss Banderry’s Anglo-Irish ancestors, who were themselves land lords (literally lords over the land worked by poor Irish laborers) and later became merely owners of the land. Bowen also makes good use of interior details in Miss Banderry’s house, decorated with pictures of ancestors and a stopped clock. In the parlor where Barbie waits, she has the chance to inspect herself in the mirror at the beginning of an afternoon in which she is forced to reexamine her relationship with her uncle. Nan notes that the roses Barbie brings are “overblown” and did not “travel well” as they drop petals on the doorstep. Miss Banderry, of course, recognizes the lie when she grabs them “thorns and all” and begins the malicious game she plays with Barbie. The roses are an apt symbol of Barbie’s situation. Traditionally roses are given as a token of affection, and they can be used to suggest sexuality. But these are past their prime and thorny. By dropping their petals, they suggest the loss of Barbie’s sexual innocence; their thorns suggest the thorny lie she is obliged to act out. Barbie’s innocent vision of love, like the petal-dropping roses, dies as Miss Banderry introduces Barbie into the adult realities of relationships. The knowledge Barbie gains is later symbolized by “the copper beeches” that surround the house she and her uncle live in that summer “turning from pink to purple,” colors that suggest a transformation from bright innocent affection to dark physical passion.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Elizabeth Bowen, Published by Gale Group, 2010