(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A Madonna figure carved from bog oak is placed in the Church of the Sacred Heart. Its black composition and angular lines make it an object of attention as well as worship in the growing English town of Whitney Clay.

Lou Parker and her husband Raymond are an apparently happily married—though childless—couple who live comfortably in their Whitney Clay apartment. They have cultivated their tastes in an aristocratic manner that they feel sets them apart from their middle-class acquaintances. As Roman Catholics, they are troubled about their lack of offspring, but they are active church members and participate in several guilds and confraternities with fellow members and friends.

Lou prides herself on cultivating aristocratic sensibilities, but the narrator regards her not as snobbish but only “sensible.” When Raymond’s automobile factory hires some Jamaican workers, the couple befriend two of them, Oxford St. John and Henry Pierce. The Parkers delight in their “equal” friendship with the black men and even take Henry with them on a family vacation to London, where they visit Lou’s impoverished widowed sister. Lou, Raymond, and Henry are appalled at the conditions in which Lou’s sister and her eight children live. However, when Henry attempts to compare the “slum mentality” of Lou’s sister Elizabeth with folks in Jamaica, Lou is offended and insists that no comparisons can be made. After all, Lou thinks to herself,...

(The entire section is 467 words.)