Black Spring

Black Spring Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Brooklyn in the late 19th century, early 20th century; Paris in the 1930s

Narrator and Point of View

First-person perspective

Tone and Mood

Tone: paranoid, flippant, euphoric, ironic, blithe, despairing

Mood: Dreamy, phantasmagorical, aggressive, fragmented, wild, nostalgic, nightmarish

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Miller; Antagonist: Unclear

Major Conflict

There is no traditional conflict. If pressed, one might claim that Miller's being torn between New York and Paris functions as such.


There is no traditional climax.


Miller mentions Tante Melia's craziness in a non-sequitur fashion in “The Angel is My Watermark!” which foreshadows his larger, more in-depth treatment of her and her insanity in “The Tailor Shop.”




1. Kurtz, a character from Joseph Conrad's “Heart of Darkness”
2. Napoleon (French emperor), Lenin (Russian Bolshevik leader), Capone (Prohibition-era Chicago gangster)
3. Fyoder Dostoevsky, author of “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment”
4. The Black Death (plague) of the 1340s
5. Rabelais, a French writer of humor and the grotesque and the carnivalesque
6. Vergil (Virgil), author of “The Aenied” and Dante's guide in “The Inferno”
7. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali (all artists)
8. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a 19th-century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
9. The Book of Numbers, from the Old Testament
10. Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver's Travels”


The imagery is difficult to sum up because it is so shifting, diverse, improbable, and fantastical. Miller depicts city streets and hovels, grotesque men and women, interior spaces, apocalyptic visions, nonsensical flights of fancy, and more. His imagery destabilizes our sense of reality and blurs the line between that reality and dreams/insanity.


1. “To get nowhere you must traverse every known universe: you must be everywhere in order to be nowhere. To have disorder you must destroy every form of order. To go mad you must have a terrific accumulation of sanities” (75).
2. “Why don't you sit down?” says Jill. “He's got his period” (135).
3. “As I come to the crossroads the living street spreads out like a map studded with awnings and wine shops” (162).
4. “Never more God than in the godless crowd” (238).


Miller's allusions to the horrors of WWI, especially as seen in the case of Rob Ramsay, are paralleled by his comments at the very end of the text that there is another war coming and all the boys he knows will be blown to bits.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



1. “I ride so slowly that each cobble sends a separate and distinct message to my spinal column” (40).
2. “When disease came it swept through hovel and castle, through the rich joints of the fathers and the tough joints of the peasant” (54).
3. “The city is panting with a five o'clock sweat” (155).
4. “The trolleys wheel round with iron mandibles, crunching the paper-mache of the crowd, spooling it down like punched transfers” (155).
5. “The clock is running down with nervous wiry sweat” (157).
6. “Paris is rubbing her belly. Paris is smacking her lips. Paris is whetting her palate for the feast to come” (196).
7. “Poverty walking about in fur coats” (219).