Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In addition to the powerful shock at the end of the story, when Mrs. Allen must realize how completely different a life the other woman has invented for herself, Elizabeth Taylor’s story features three interrelated themes: human alienation, class differences in post-World War II British society, and the disaffection of women living in this society. To her surprise, Mrs. Allen must recognize how little she really knows about Mrs. Lacey and how alienated the two women are from each other. Despite the fact that they have worked and chatted together for many years, Mrs. Allen never had an inkling of Mrs. Lacey’s nightly escapades nor the fact that she is capable of using her imagination to tell such a wild story about Mrs. Allen.

This theme of human alienation is reinforced by the picture that the author paints of the married lives of the two women. Humphrey Allen is a remote presence who comes home late at night and does not seem to show much interest in the details of his wife’s life. Mr. Lacey, a small, worn-out man twenty years older than his wife, does not appear to command the loving respect of his wife, so that the married couples live quite apart emotionally.

The characters’ alienation from each other is powerfully reinforced by their class differences. Their different classes clearly separate and differentiate the two women from each other. Mrs. Lacey’s remarkable fecundity also reflects an ironic allusion to her status as a...

(The entire section is 599 words.)