Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main theme of this story is conveyed by its title. There is not a literal burning house anywhere in the narrative; the image of the burning house is a metaphor for Amy’s marriage. It is J. D. who, late in the story, alludes to the story’s title when he jokingly refers to that “wicked fairy tale crap,” which decrees that if you do something you know to be wrong, “your heart will break, your house will burn.” In this context, Amy’s house is burning. While she and her husband seem to be enjoying an amusing weekend with their arty friends, in reality their marriage is falling apart. Beneath the conviviality is a sense of hellish despair. Their guests are on the road to perdition as well. They represent the “peace and freedom” generation of the 1960’s that has lost its way, drifting aimlessly and lovelessly through unstructured, empty lives. The characterization of men as a series of make-believe or cartoon characters, combined with their use of drugs and alcohol, indicates not only a delayed maturity but a loss of common humanity. The image of the goat mask, which suggests Dionysian celebration, also indicates a tragic metamorphosis in the character of the men around Amy.

The title also suggests the heavy use of marijuana cigarettes in the story. The golden age of the 1960’s, an era of youthful romanticism that first empowered the postwar baby boomers, has in this story ended in a circle of drug-dazed lost souls who seem to float...

(The entire section is 526 words.)