Don't Call Me by My Right Name Summary

James Purdy


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Lois Klein decides that although she likes her husband Frank, to whom she has been married for six months, she does not care for his last name. Her maiden name, Lois McBane, by which she was known both professionally and socially, provided her with a sense of identity that she feels she has lost through her marriage. What it is about the name that annoys her she cannot say, but clearly it involves the fact that because she is a large, middle-aged woman, the name “Klein,” German for “small,” is inappropriate for her appearance. How long this discontent has been developing the reader does not discover, but it comes suddenly to the surface one Halloween while she and her husband are attending “one of those fake long parties where nobody actually knows anybody,” at which all the guests except for Lois are men.

Several men, overhearing Lois’s insistence that she cannot go on being Mrs. Klein, laugh at her. Having had too much to drink, she tells them that they would not like being “Mrs. Klein” either, a remark they find even more hilarious. When one man comments that Lois does not look much like Mrs. Klein, an obvious reference to her size, she demands to know why not. He inquires if she has not looked in the mirror. His remark is, to her, like “the last of many possible truths she could hear about herself,” and she grows more dismayed and confused.

As Lois becomes more insistent that Frank allow her to change her name, he grows progressively more annoyed, and once again refuses to change “our name.” When Lois insists that she does not understand what he means by “our name,” he takes the drink from her hand and strikes her twice across the face. The men, bored with the...

(The entire section is 710 words.)