Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Of several “bridges” that are crossed by the story’s characters, the most important is the bridge between childhood dependence on parents and the adult realm of independent action—a crossing that Sylvie makes at the end of the story. She moves toward adulthood by rebelling against her parents, first by refusing to marry Arnaud and then by choosing Bernard. After she makes clear her preference for Bernard, she avoids showing her mother the letter from Bernard that supposedly contains a promise of marriage. She does this because she does not want to “share” Bernard with her family. In contrast to Arnaud, the son of a family friend, Bernard is someone whom she has met on her own. By rejecting Arnaud and keeping Bernard to herself, Sylvie has a taste of adult independence.
For a female child, the crossing into adulthood also means joining the company of mothers and wives. Some months after her original engagement is broken, Sylvie realizes that mothers conspire to control events. Her mother reveals that she has been privately seeing Madame Pons, who admits that she still wants Arnaud to marry Sylvie. The implication is that the two mothers will subtly pressure their children to reconcile. This conspiracy between women to achieve goals mutually beneficial to their families is necessary because social conditions in postwar France limit their ability to act more openly and directly. Sylvie says that she is ignorant of world events because her father does “not like to see young women reading newspapers.” Her family wants her to have a small collection of accomplishments that will increase her desirability as a potential bride—such as the ability to paint attractive watercolor copies of famous artworks. At the same time, her accomplishments should not be too impressive, lest they make her appear needy or plain. Older married women are subject to other restrictions. Madame Castelli, for example, must ask her husband for money because she cannot legally have her own bank account or sign checks without her husband’s consent. This legally mandated dependence of women on their husbands makes Sylvie’s choice of husband vitally important to her future happiness.