Analysis of short story

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“55 Miles To The Gas Pump” – Text Analysis

The short story “55 Miles To The Gas Pump” by Annie Proulx is from a collection of short stories, the central theme of which is rural life in Wyoming. The story is a short third person narrative centred on the suicide of Rancher Croom and the discovery, by Mrs Croom, of the bodies of the women he murdered, meant to entertain an adult audience as such a sinister plot would be unsuitable for children.

The story seems like a spoken account of recent happenings, like a horror story being told in a bar. The style of each sentence, and so paragraph, being a long string of phrases and clauses is also similar to a string of thoughts. The register is informal and conversational and the lexis is similarly unpretentious:

“…That walleyed cattleman, stray hairs like curling fiddle string ends, that warm-handed, quick-foot dancer…”

 Such features add to the story’s feeling of being a spoken account between familiar individuals.

The structure of the two long sentences is complicated and disorienting: for example, in the first sentence a series of noun phrases in apposition post-modify the proper noun “Rancher Croom”, acting as pre-modification to the second occurrence of the noun: the first noun phrase “Rancher Croom in handmade boots and filthy hat”, of which Rancher Croom is the head word, consists of the name and prepositional phrase “in handmade boots and filthy hat”; the longest phrase has both two compound adjectives (“warm-handed, quick-foot”) as pre-modification of the head word “dancer”. This is followed by two prepositional phrases “on splintery boards or down the cellar stairs” and “to a rack of bottles of his own strange beer”. Such concentrated modification draws the reader into the story by enabling them to build a better picture of the characters and setting. Within these prepositional phrases are examples of smaller noun phrases, for example “splintery boards”, an attributive adjective pre-modifying the noun. Such a complex sentence – containing several subordinate as well as the main clause – is disorienting but dynamic due to phrase usage. Information is condensed but such sentences provide varied reading, keeping the reader interested.

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Dynamic non-finite verbs, mostly in the present tense, are used including “galloping”, “turning” and “cutting”. The use of present tense makes the description more vivid and maintains the sense of speed and action created by the dynamic verbs. By contrast, the description of the corpses utilises mostly past tense, finite, passive verbs:

“All of them used hard, covered with tarry handprints…one wrapped in newspaper.”

 This halts the activity of Mrs Croom’s cutting through the roof, allowing the reader time to fully digest what has been done to the women and to react with the appropriate revulsion and pity. Whereas the ...

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