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Written by Timothy Sexton
“It was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead.”
The opening line of “The Storyteller” effectively communicates the psychology of the setting. Heat has the power to transform even the most well-behaved of children into little tyrants of discontent and undo the patience of adults with little recourse to putting distance between themselves and tiny tyrants. The situation is immediately conveyed: it’s hot, claustrophobic and with no relief in sight.
“The children moved listlessly towards the aunt's end of the carriage. Evidently her reputation as a story- teller did not rank high in their estimation.”
Since the plot and theme of “The Storyteller” turns on the fact that the aunt’s storytelling capability is nowhere near the equal of the bachelor, the information conveyed here is of supreme significance.
“You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller.”
The straightforward quality of this critique provides some insight into the personality of the bachelor. The critique itself also affords yet more evidence of the aunt’s absence of talent as a capable storyteller. From this point forward, debate can commence over the genuine motivation for the bachelor to tell the story he tells: is it merely to entertain the children or is there a more vindictive intent behind showing up the aunt in front of her charges?
“…the word horrible in connection with goodness was a novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a ring of truth that was absent from the aunt's tales of infant life.”
From this information much can be gleaned. The aunt is clearly no wordsmith and one can assume that her stories are fairly devoid of whimsical or otherwise creative construction. The positive reaction of the children to such an unusual display of language exploitation strongly indicates the possibility of a lack of artistic appreciation in the family lineage that is not limited merely to the aunt. At the same time, the children’s recognition of the potential for goodness to be described as “horrible” also points to the probability that these children are probably gaining access to the reality that the adults in their lives are straining so hard to shield them from.
“The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.”
The aunt’s emotional turmoil here is predicated upon her own failure as a storyteller. The admiration is roused by the bachelor’s improvisational ability to take a challenging question posed by the children and instantly adjust his narrative to fit the query. The suppression of admiration is due to a previous example of the aunt’s inability to make this sort of adjustment herself.
“You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching.”
With this admonishment, the divergence between the aunt’s philosophy of morality and the bachelor’s philosophy of morality is made manifest. The children have just irrefutably demonstrated their preference for the bachelor’s story which contravenes the aunt’s insistence upon telling stories that reinforce her view that virtue is ultimately rewarded. The bachelor’s story is not told with the intent of undermining the aunt’s view that stories told to children should have a moral; rather his story contains a moral which suggests that even the most horribly good children can come to an end every bit as detached from their virtue as the most horribly bad children.
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The bachelor's story was like a breath of fresh air to the children. For once they felt a bit of realism that was dangerous yet enticing. I think the story took the regular themes and morals to a different place. The girls "goodness" and vanity...
The situation would be an aunt traveling with her nieces and nephew and trying to entertain them as well. The children are already bored, a boredom that only increases as the storytelling goes on. In this work, Saki is making fun of stories that...