Style Analysis for
See them Die,
McBain aims to lead the reader into the bleak litter-strewn environment of a crowded American slum with its inherent threat of violence. Two dominating forces, Heat and July, established in the first two words, emerge as double personifications, prostitutes, in the first paragraph, their brazen ‘vengeance’, strutting insolently, garishly, born to make you suffer.
Here the tone is aggressive, and menacing as McBain establishes the control his ‘twin bitches’ exert. This colourful start, rich in uncompromising nastiness, serves as a spring board for the more oppressive atmosphere neglect creates, and the sordid sense of entrapment which follows.
‘The air is tangible’ personifies the air, giving it purpose in its drab surroundings, and along with the onomatopoeic ‘sticky’ and ‘clinging’, conveys a sense of desolation. McBain then focuses on the visual ‘nastiness’, spraying sensory feelings throughout the next four lines, ‘off-white brilliance’, ‘light that is dizzying’ and ‘shimmer of blue’, all bring with them feelings of intense light, and a harsh, unnatural environment.
The inseparable ideas of ‘heat’ and ‘July’ give the piece a secure foundation on which the detail builds. This structural security, reinforced by three other lines also set in isolation, gives McBain’s writing an uncompromising edge, thus complementing his bleak tone.
It is only 8:40 am…and it its Sunday.
Placed almost midway, offers a structural reminder that much more will follow when the people wake up; that in fact we are experiencing the uncomfortable calm before the urban storm. These ideas contrast the ‘quiet’ of the previous line.
After the opening metaphoric paragraph McBain develops details of the unpleasant light and its mixed effect on the scene: glow, off-white, light and dark, sin sits low, faded, shimmer, hint of blue. These impressions, combined with some effective ‘tactile’ diction, convey a sense of unevenness and reinforce the general air of unpredictability.
The third major paragraph takes us into the refuse of human habitation, an extension of the bleakness built up previously. Garbage, neglect and the sordid symptoms of poverty establish clearly that the people in the setting are trapped on all sides by heat, July and where they live. The simple movement of a man’s arm, through its stark contrast, reinforces the control of the disgusting street environment. The single line
This is the only movement on the street
Cuts off any further glimpses of people or action, at this stage, in keeping with the writer’s chief purpose. He quickly returns first to the stillness and heat in paragraph four, and then to the dissonant sounds, amid the overwhelming heat, in the final paragraph. These two developments add to the overall lethargy and sense of oppression he has built steadily, adding a sensory element to the scene with its underlying feeling of hopelessness and impending trouble.
This grim opening framework of the novel leaves the reader in no doubt that what follows in the desolate ‘87th precinct’ will not be pleasant.