This short story is written in the first person with an unidentified narrator, who describes her first days as an employee at Macy’s. She is immediately segregated into a nondescript group and constantly shuffled and ordered around by faceless employees, all of whom look the same and whom the narrator dubs identically as "Miss Cooper." Furthermore, the narrator receives different sets of numbers (ID number, locker number, and so on), which thus emphasizes the impersonality of the organization. Unwilling to succumb to this erasure of her individuality, the narrator quits her job at Macy's after only two days.
This short story, written in the first person, is semi-autobiographical and indicates Jackson's disdain for the conformity and lack of individuality she sees in contemporary society. Jackson criticizes conformity in other stories as well, including "Flower Garden" and "The Lottery." In "Trial by Combat," she manifests the frightening nature of conformity through the physical description of Emily's apartment building and the ease with which apartment dwellers can slip among one another's homes and identities. To Jackson, conformity can breed serious harm, such as racism and ostracism ("Flower Garden"), or even murder ("The Lottery").
In this story, however, Jackson displays her dry wit and subtle sense of humor through her use of irony and hyperbole in order to poke fun at the conformity witnessed in an employment experience at a branch department store of Macy’s.
"All the women I met my first day were named Miss Cooper" (46). The reader can reasonably infer that this is an exaggeration, hyperbole of course. Yet, the colleagues and superiors whom the narrator encounters on her first day at Macy's have so drastically conformed to Macy's regulations that they could just as well all be the same person. They are not individual and unique; they are interchangeable.
The protagonist concludes the story with: "I wrote Macy's a long letter, and I signed it with all my numbers added together and divided by 11,700, which is the number of employees in Macy's. I wonder if they miss me" (48). This last sentence is an example of ironic sarcasm, for the entire story has delineated how the corporation does not identify its employees personally and instead regards them as faceless masses. Surely, they do not miss the narrator. The "Miss Coopers" of the story most likely would not even notice the narrator's absence.
Jackson maintains a light and humorous tone throughout the story. Though the narrator's experiences at Macy's are impersonal and meaningless at best, and excruciatingly boring and tiresome at worst, the story is nonetheless light and funny.