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Twentieth Century Prose

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I have read five short stories by different authors, all the stories have been written in the twentieth century and I will be comparing all of the stories with each other. I will be comparing settings, themes, characters, moods, atmospheres and narrative techniques. I will also be saying if each author’s technique makes a better impression on the story. The stories I read are ‘ The secret life of Walter Mitty ‘ by James Thurber, ‘ Indian Camp’ by Ernest Hemingway, ‘ The peaches’ by Dylan Thomas, ‘ The trout’ by Sean O’Faolain and ‘Go down, Moses’ by William Faulkner


‘ The secret life of Walter Mitty’ seems to be set in the mid twentieth century, this is because at the beginning of the story after the first dream we find the main character Walter sitting in a car, cars were made in the late twentieth century not early. We know that they live in houses as it says in the story that they headed for their house in the car This could mean that the story is set mid not early twentieth century. After reading more of the story I got a feeling that the story is set in America since the dialogue used is remotely like the Americans and not English for example, “pick it up brother”, snapped a cop’, the word brother is used quite a lot in a America and not here in England. Also the words ‘firearms’ and ‘sidewalk’ are American words and are used in the story, which give the story an American atmosphere and really makes the story seem American. The story also seems to be set in the city center as we are told that there are shops near by and buildings all around which tells us it is not set in the countryside.

This setting is completely different to the one in ‘Indian Camp’ because for a start it is set in a completely different area and there are no buildings that tells us the story is set in a rural area. When I read the story I immediately realised that the buildings were not made of bricks and were not called houses but were called Shanties, which are sort of like mud huts that are only big enough for one room. From this we can say that these two stories don’t have much in comparison, in ‘Indian Camp’ there are no signs of influence of technology and modernization on the buildings. For example no shops. Once again as I kept reading on I found a vital piece of information which would tell us where the story is set and this is that it was a small village with shacks near to the river Mississippi which would mean the story is set in Western America, this may explain why the area is not very developed. We are also given a clue as to where about the story is set by looking at the title, ‘ Indian Camp’. The story is set in the West where Indians lived undisturbed and didn’t have any knowledge.

The story ‘The Trout’ I feel is set in a much more quieter area in America. The story is focused on the actual story not the background this is why we don’ t learn much about the setting. The other story I read was Go down, Moses’; I feel this story is set in the West again and this is because we are told that the area we are talking about is seventeen miles away from the Mississippi. Although there doesn’t seem to many modern developments just like Indian Camp but the way in which the people did things was more civilized for example there is a courtroom and we know that phones are apparent in the story. I’d say that the story is set a bit later than Indian Camp but still early twentieth century but I think it is set in Central America earlier than ‘Walter Mitty’ and ‘The Trout’. The last story I read ‘ The Peaches’ I found that the setting is described in great detail and seemed to be set in Britain there is even detail about the people and houses however we don’t learn a lot about the setting only the areas in which are involved in the scene, I’d say it was set middle twentieth century.


The theme to Walter Mitty is in a way peculiar, this is because it is all about a man who dreams of himself in heroic situations, sort of fulfilling his ambitions that he had as a child but in his own secret world. I could say that the theme is all to do with dreams. The story ‘Indian Camp has an interesting theme, or should I say themes. The theme of this story is to maybe show was life is like in such a poor area and what its medical advances are because the women has a baby and she is not even in a hospital. Once again the story ‘The Trout’ is similar to ‘Walter Mitty’ as the theme is all to do with a fairytale, but there is a twist as the theme could also be secrecy, this is because a mother prefers to tell her children a different story than the truth. Go down Moses has a similar theme to The trout which is again secrecy but this time I feel the theme is much more emphasized as a lady tries to hide the truth of someone else’s son to the mother. Once again there could be another theme, this time murder and its consequences, this is because the son murders a policeman and then gets the death sentence.

Narrative Techniques

In the story The Peaches the narrator uses very descriptive writing using on average six to seven adjectives per sentence. There was one however that seemed very peculiar and long, it caught my eye and found that it is very interesting. This was that sentence:

“The ramshackle outhouses had tumbling rotten roofs, jagged holes in their sides, broken shutters, and peeling whitewash; rusty screws ripped out from the dangling, crooked boards; the lean cat of the night before sat snugly between the splintered jaws of bottles, cleaning its face, on the tip of the rubbish pile that rose triangular and smelling sweet and strong to the level of the riddled carthouse roof “

As you can see this sentence is not only quite long but if you look at it in detail you can pick out another interesting feature to this writing, he uses many adjectives. There are at least fifteen adjectives making this sentence an extremely descriptive one, the author Dylan Thomas has spent a lot of time describing the cats actions and its surroundings giving a clear picture of the environment in my head. This is a good example of first person view as he is writing as if he was there whilst the event is taking place.

Dylan Thomas tries to convey the characters emotions in wierd sentences, for example, ‘ I remembered the demon in the story with his wings and hooks, who clung like a bat to my hair as I battled up and down’ this is a very strange sentence and it, once again contains many adjectives.

Dylan Thomas’s style is very successful when it comes to creating a clear vision of something and the style of using many adjectives is very effective, another example of good description is, ‘ Uncle Jim, in his black collar, loud new boots and a plaid cap, creaked and climbed down’ this gives us quite a good image of uncle Jim. Dylan Thomas doesn’t just use ordinary adjectives, he does vary them for example, ‘Gwillym was a tall young man aged nearly twenty, with a thin stick of a body and a spade shaped face’ here he has used object to describe what Gwillym looks like and I feel he has done this to create a unique feature this character has, it is again very effective. This style of writing is completely different to that of the story ‘Indian Camp’ by Ernest Hemingway. This author tends not to use descriptive language but instead uses a style that gets on with the story; this is probably why he can put so much action into his stories. An example of this style is, ‘ Inside on a wooden bunk lay a young Indian Women’, here the author Ernest Hemmingway has given a very vague impression of the setting in which the lady is in, also he has given a vague description of the woman.

‘In the secret life of Walter Mitty’ a normal style of writing has been chosen but we can tell it is American by looking at the language used in the dialogues, for example ‘throw on the power lights’, which means turn on the lights. Also the author tends to spend a lot of his time concentrating on Walters’s dreams making them detailed and exciting. The fact that he dies in his last story makes it an interesting and peculiar ending.

The other stories all have sort of the same style apart from the trout which starts of descriptive and tends to spend some time on the opening event, but then the description starts to fizzle out and a more basic style of writing takes over. Two of the stories are told in third person but Go down Moses and the Peaches and maybe also ‘The trout’ is written in first person view just like ‘The Peaches’.


The story Indian Camp has an atmosphere that gives the impression that you are actually there helping him deliver the baby, this is similar to ‘Walter Mitte’y because the author writes Walter’s dreams again as if you are there next to him. The Peaches has a atmosphere like no other it doesn’t really have one, it just tells the story in a different view the narrator’s view, this is similar to Go down..


There are really two main characters in Indian Camp the man and his son the man who is a doctor seems to be very confident and experienced in his job, so much he wants to bring his son to watch him give birth. However his character changes a lot when he realizes an unexpected turn of events occurs, he appears to become very protective of his child and puts his attention to him. The son also has an interesting character, at the beginning of the story he is delighted he go with his father and he thinks he knows everything that will happen, but he seems to get scared when he sees the dead person and I feel his views on doctors and maybe even hospitals were changed for life.

There is really only one main character in ‘The secret life of Walter Mittey’ and his name is Walter, he comes across as an ordinary person who seems to be forgetful, I gathered this because his wife says, ‘toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, initiative and referendum’, this sentence is weird as the last two words are things you can’t buy but things you are born with, also if you don’t have those two features then you would be a forgetful person. He seems to be all-alone in the real world and has his own life in his dreams. His dreams are like ones you have when you are a child and so I think he has dreams to try and fulfil his ambitions that he had when he was young.

From what I understood from ‘Go down, Moses’ there was really one character this is an old women who tries to help a friend of hers by keeping a secret from her friend, she goes to great lengths to try and keep the death of her friends son secret and so seems very friendly.

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