In one sense, it seemed to us, a slap is a form of withholding, of refusal: it presents itself as the deliberate absence of a more damaging blow. Its aim isn’t to brake a bone or draw blood, but to fall short of both. The physical evidence of a the slap – a redness in the cheek – conveys its meaning perfectly: it is the sign of blood, without the blood. In the same way, the pain of a slap is a sign of the greater pain not inflicted. But looked at another way, the slap doesn’t merely withhold: the slap imparts. What it imparts is precisely the knowledge of greater power withheld. In that knowledge lies the genius of the slap, the deep humiliation it imposes. It invites the victim to accept a punishment that might have been worse – that will in fact be worse if the slap isn’t accepted. The slap requires in the victim an unwavering submission, an utter abnegation. The victim bends in spirit before a lord. In this sense the slap is internal. It is closer to a word than to a blow. The sting passes, the redness fades, but the wound lingers, invisible. Therein lies the deepest meaning of the slap: its real work takes place secretly, out of sight, on the inside.
Analysis Of A Slap, from “The Slap,” By Steven Millhauser