Point of View
The story is told from the first-person point of view. The narrator is a grown woman looking back on an incident that took place when she was about 10 or 12 years old. The reader is only privy to what goes on in the mind of the narrator. Yet, because the narrator has a keen perception of the world around her, the story clearly indicates the mores and values of the time period. Though the story is brief, the narrator fills it with vivid detail. The narrator’s account of her grandfather’s attitudes toward the black boys who push the chairs is particularly illuminating. While it shows the prevailing racist attitude of the time, the girl juxtaposes herself against her grandfather, showing her own open-mindedness.
Symbolism and Imagery
Boyle makes use of a great deal of symbolism and imagery in the story. The slow movement of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean is evoked through her comparison of them to “indolent” ladies who “gathered up their skirts in their hands and, … came tiptoeing in across the velvet sand.” The dogs “wheeled like gulls.” The narrator’s horse is likened to a shy bird.
The black boy is also described in comparison to other key elements of the story. His neck is long and shapely, more so even than a white man’s. His fingers ‘ ‘ran in and out of the sand like the blue feet of a bird.” This phrase is perhaps most important because it has both a positive and a negative slant. On the positive side, Boyle compares the boy to an animal, and she infuses animals with worthy attributes throughout the story. On the negative side, Boyle also implicity equates the boy with the narrator’s horse, since both of them are likened to birds. This comparison reinforces the idea that on the boardwalk above, the boy, doing the work of a horse, is regarded as little more than an animal that provides a physical service.
Boyle also uses intense imagery to refer to the character’s blackness. The boy was “as thin as a shadow but darker” and his face was “black as a bat’s wing, nodding and nodding like a dark heavy flower.” Another black boy who pushes the carts has a face “dripping down like tar in the sun.” All of these descriptions emphasize the extreme darkness of the skin color of these boys who work on the boardwalk.
Boyle uses rich language in writing the story, and her characters mimic this language. The narrator uses vivid metaphors and well-crafted descriptions, and the black boy’s speech reflects a desire for true beauty. He describes a magical scene in which there
“used to be all kinds of animals come down here to drink in the dark.. .. They was a kind of a mirage came along and gave that impression. 1 seen tigers, lions, lambs, deer; I seen ostriches drinking down there side by side with each other.”
The narrator responds to the boy’s language: ‘ ‘every word the black boy spoke seemed to fall into a cavern of beauty.”
When the narrator’s grandfather wants to know what the two children converse about, however, she only replies, “I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like much to tell it.” She understands that she and her friend are creating a better world but a made-up world just the same.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Kay Boyle – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.