Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many other stories by Donald Barthelme, “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” is about failed relationships. The narrator, probably in his thirties, is thoroughly disenchanted with domestic life. He attributes his drinking to his boring evenings at home: “Our evenings lacked promise. The world in the evening seems fraught with the absence of promise, if you are a married man. There is nothing to do but go home and drink your nine drinks and forget about it.”

The narrator scorns Wanda’s attachment to Elle, the French magazine for women, to which she turns for trendy advice on food, fashions, interior decorating, and entertainment. Wanda herself is discontented. A French major in college, she now has little to do except “take care of a child and look out of the window.” Sex is also a problem; Wanda withholds her sexual favors if the narrator does not behave properly, and he is inclined to visit a prostitute after fights with his wife. After the separation, Wanda charges the narrator with other failings, including stinginess when he hid the charge card or refused to pay to have her overbite corrected. Once he also forced Wanda to don a chauffeur’s cap, drive him to the Argentine embassy, and wait outside with other chauffeurs while he chatted with the ambassador.

The narrator’s relationship with the child is marked by deep hostility. The child, who significantly is never called by his first name, angers his father by asking for a horse. Also, the father remembers an unpleasant incident when the child, sleeping with them in a narrow hotel bed, urinated on the sheets. The father is aggravated, as well, by the child’s constant, pervasive, and unpleasant singing, augmented by the television set and the transistor radio. The narrator does record one moment of a happy father-son relationship when he fixed the seat on the child’s bicycle (after his wife had berated him for buying a cheap bicycle in the first place), but this is one of only two transitory interludes in a generally...

(The entire section is 828 words.)