Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Playful, Tough, Mysterious
Even though this is a dark and gruesome tale, there is a playful feeling behind it that is signature O'Connor. When we learn that pretending to swallow a lighted cigarette is Mr. Shortley's "way of making love to [Mrs. Shortley]" we suspect that a wry humor is operating behind the scenes (1.41). This playfulness helps soften the blow of the extreme toughness that is also part of the complex tone of this story. By toughness we mean O'Connor's refusal to shy away from difficult observations and issues, whether with regard to language, religion, race, or immigration. The playfulness works with the toughness to create a tone of mystery that leaves us feeling uneasy and not sure what to think.