Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although E. B. White is usually considered a humorist with a particularly gentle style, he has treated themes as serious as those in “The Door” in several other short stories and essays. Like Trexler, the psychiatric patient in White’s “The Second Tree from the Corner” (1947), the protagonist of “The Door” feels alienated from his urban environment, tormented by bizarre thoughts, and fearful, even paranoid, about coping with life. In common with the army officers on the space platform who casually blow up the earth in White’s “The Morning of the Day They Did It” (1950), he feels so disconnected from simple physical pleasures and natural beauty that destruction, whether of a house or of human intelligence itself, makes emotional sense to him. Many of the essays in White’s collection One Man’s Meat (1942) stress the pernicious side effects of technological improvements and urban life when such progress comes at the expense of an intuitive understanding of humanity’s place in the natural world.

“The Door” is among the bleakest of White’s works. Although its protagonist does find a door out of the model house, he still feels helpless to affect his life; the ground still anticipates his foot. By contrast, Trexler achieves a Zen kind of wisdom, as he accepts, at least momentarily, the rightness of wanting something as real but unattainable as “the second tree from the corner, just as it stands.” The narrator of “The Morning of the Day They Did It” escapes the total destruction of the earth and winds up among much gentler people on another planet. White himself, despite his love for many aspects of life in New York City, chose to leave the city in 1938 and move to Maine, where he worked a saltwater farm. From there, he wrote about the satisfactions of rural life for his largely urban audience.

For the protagonist of “The Door,” however, there is no escape, no door that will work anymore. He can neither transcend his situation, as Trexler does, nor change his life, as White managed to do. In “The Door,” White gives literary form to the despair and alienation of modern urban life that had made his personal choice, just one year earlier, a necessity.