Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In just fifteen short scenes, Harriet Doerr’s “Edie: A Life” covers twenty-nine years in the lives of Edie and the Ransoms. Edie establishes the tone in the very first scene when she arrives in the Ransom house and serves the children English tea. When James says that their mother has died, Edie merely nods with English formality and changes the topic. Gradually everyone reacts this way, becoming more and more isolated. No one talks about why things happen or how they feel about them. By the end of the story there is a total lack of communication.

This may be attributable to Edie’s exaggerated English reserve, which contrasts with the greater openness of Americans. At the beginning of the story the children are so outgoing that they even tease Edie. However, they clearly need her care and are eager to please her. Her goal is a smoothly running household with properly behaved children, so they act accordingly. On the surface things are calm—with no more fighting, teasing, untidy hair, or untied shoes. There are no outward signs that the children are motherless. At the same time, however, the children are withdrawing: James to his headphones, Eliza to her books, Jenny to her dream world, and the twins to each other. Their father, relieved that all is calm, focuses his attention on his next three wives.

During the chaotic period when stepmothers are in residence, the children need Edie’s constancy. In creating an orderly routine,...

(The entire section is 478 words.)