Concision and Repetition in Babel's Collected Stories

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Concision and Repetition in Babel’s Collected Stories
With laconic power, Isaac Babel tells short stories that are at once cold and full of exultation. This effect arises as much from his prose style as from the wrenching content of his narratives.
In this paper, I will explore several techniques that compress his prose to the lapidary and one that is more expansive and cuts against his impulse to concision.
One of Babel’s most striking tools for reducing his text to essentials is the simile (and more rarely the metaphor), a tactic that allows him to juxtapose images that complicate the text in a short space. He also has a knack for rendering psychological states in terms so compressed that they seem irreducible; for instance, at the end of a story when a character’s heart is constricted by a foreboding of truth, there really is nothing more to say. To an extreme, Babel makes his prose do more than one thing at a time: his descriptions of scenery frequently delve to the heart of the point-of-view character.
Cutting against this tendency and made powerful by it, the stories indulge in the repetition of words, a tactic that can propel the prose toward exultation.
§1 Simile and Metaphor
Babel makes good use of simile and metaphor, both of which lend power, complexity, concision, and often violence to his writing.
At times the similes are simply vivid juxtapositions that enliven the prose but do little else. “His stomach, like a large tomcat, lay on the silver pommel” paints a clear and striking picture, but tomcats do not otherwise enter these narratives.
But at their best, the similes are often simple and spring from the world of the story itself, illuminating a state of mind or enriching the detail found there.
For example “Sashka Christ” tells the story of a boy who contracts syphilis from an old beggar woman. Afterward, he sees himself as defiled and will…...

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