Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The jobless Phillip lives alone, apart from his parents, in a shabby apartment in the slums, but his knowledge of the paintings of the French artists Maurice Utrillo and Maurice de Vlaminck indicates that he has been well educated. Utrillo painted Paris city scenes, and Vlaminck, a landscape artist, in his youth was a Fauvist, one of the early twentieth century “wild beasts” who experimented with vivid colors, avoiding realistic coloration and instead substituting different, often shocking, colors for natural hues. Phillip likes to think of himself as a sophisticated young man, a “city boy,” but his hormones are still pumping out of control. Like Utrillo, he has an urban perspective, but like Vlaminck, he is a wild beast, a cauldron of hot passions. The degree of Veronica’s sophistication is unclear, but she also bubbles with desire. What does it take, the story implicitly asks, to bring such heat under control?

As wild images explode in Phillip’s mind, Phillip and Veronica clasp and sunder on the living room rug. Like untamed animals, they lie naked, one thin wall and door away from Veronica’s parents. The young lovers are mortified when Veronica’s father discovers them. However, when Phillip rises and he and Mr. Cohen look into each others’ eyes, Philip recognizes them as “secret sharers.” The phrase alludes to the 1912 novella of the same name by Joseph Conrad about a sailor who looks over the side of his ship and confronts his double in the water.

However, the simile Phillip invokes to characterize the place where he and Mr. Cohen confront each other is drawn neither from the New York City apartment in which the meeting takes place nor from the world where the events of “The Secret...

(The entire section is 712 words.)