The following excerpt is from a short story titled ‘Corkscrew’ by Dashiell Hammett written in 1925. The passage is written in first person and starts with a powerful metaphor “Boiling like a coffeepot”. It strikes the reader as a very strong metaphor as the word “Boiling” shows the brutal state of the narrator. This opening is remarkable due to fact that the narrator gets the reader right into the middle of the action and creates a sense of urgency due to way he describes the state he is in.
Heat is mentioned a lot in the starting few paragraphs as the narrator struggles to cope up with the weather. Using repetition of “hotter” in the fourth paragraph shows the blistering heat shows this. He even mentions the sky as being “brazen” which is unusual as calling a constant object such as the sky shameless and audacious is unheard off. What this reflects is that the whole weather is so outlandish and preposterous that the narrator is questioning as to why the sky was torturing him in such a way and being so unsympathetic and unrestrained. The narrator mentions that the automobiles are “cooked”. Again demonstrating the bad weather through a metaphor showing the heat and its effect.Order now
The word cook is used for cook preparing a dish at a high temperature and by comparing it with cars the readers’ glimpse how the cars are being roasted and turning into cookable objects. What this shows the readers is how the narrator is out of his comfort zone and depressed. This is mirrored by the horses who have “bunched their dejection under a shed.” Dejection means lowness of spirit and being depressed, which the narrator would certainly feel in these conditions. Hence by emphasizing on the heat the narrator reveals the uneasy which in turn has made him disheartened.
There are multiple themes such as empathy in the passage. This is shown by the use of dull phrases such as ‘No person was in sight’ and ‘I was the only passenger’, which helps show his loneliness and how he is away from everyone else. The word “only” stresses his isolation and portrays the narrator as being distant. There is this element of him being alone and isolated the way he describes the car ride “without conversation”. Again highlighting how he is away from his usual way of life and that he is going to a desolate place. The narrator also uses many Spanish words such as “arroyos”, “mesquite”, “mesas” which reveals that English may not be the narrator’s native language and hence conveying his discomfort and sense of difference in these parts. There is the use of sibilance in the second paragraph “cactus-spiked sage studded”. Sibilance is usually used to put focus on a particular thing, hence drawing attention to the sparse greenery and different plants.
An underlying theme is of shady dealings and unfriendliness. This is visible due to the frosty welcome that the narrator gets from the cashier who is curt and very blunt also refusing water when the man clearly needs some. We see the open hostility of the people, as the only man he has a conversation with is gruff and rude. This reveals how he is all by himself and creates tension due to the curt and uneasy conversation he has with the cashier. There is an ominous air to what the drunk says “th’ time hash come for yuh’t give up y’r evils an’ git out y’knittin.” As if there are some underhanded dealings going in the town and is a rather insinuating welcome to the deputy sheriff.
This sets up a ill boded tone to the passage. As if they should stop doing what they do and start a pretense for the real things going on in the city. There is a prostitute in the town and the diction used to describe her is possibly an oxymoron “too bright dark eyes,”. Dark is a shade that is associated to evil and dangerous things and describing her eyes being dark show room for some kind of wrong. Also having a prostitute for a “town” of barely ‘fifteen or eighteen shabby buildings” is uncommon.
The title ‘Corkscrew’ is an interesting one as a corkscrew in essence protects precious wine from decaying and by titling the story corkscrew the author may lead the readers to believe that there is something that is being hidden or shielded from the sheriff’s eye. There is an image in the starting part of the passage ‘. We pushed up a long slope, topped a sharp ridge and slid down into corkscrew’. By describing it as going down a corkscrew one gets the feeling that the man is going down into an airtight container with no way out unless opened by someone else. Which leads the reader to believe the lack of control the narrator has and the word “push” shows how he is being forced and that he is powerless. Towards the end of the passage the narrator starts to describe characters and seems to take particular interest in the eyes. This maybe due to him being a deputy sheriff and it is said that eyes can be rather revealing or that the folks from these parts have striking eyes in someway. The need for the deputy sheriff to carry another set of guns hidden from sight demonstrates the need of safety and protection in this town. Consequently this creates an air of caution and fear and sets the mood of the passage. Leaving the readers with the feeling of distrust and creating a foreboding mood.
The sentences are mostly short with heavy punctuation. This slows the rhythm down and gives the passage a short tempo making it more precise and a measure of time passing by very slowly in this unbearable heat. There are a large amount of paragraphs for a sixty nine-line passage. Which again slows the pace and can possibly show his fragmented thought process and how the sun has addled his mind and making it crawl and work rather slowly. It could also be due to the present company who are not very inviting or reflect his tiredness and his discomfort in the situation. Something to be noted is that in the last two paragraphs are not as punctuated and consist of longer sentences. This is also the only time when the narrator is away from the sun and alone which makes him comfortable and at ease resulting in him thinking freely and with no restrictions.