Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Taylor’s major theme in this early story is the disintegration of the family and the collapse of the values associated with the genteel South. Allied with that is an investigation, showing Freudian preoccupations, of the effects of this disintegration on a lone woman’s psyche (“A Spinster’s Tale,” written about the same time, focuses for the same purpose on a woman who unlike Josie was reared in the upper-middle class). The results suggest that the social breakdown has revealed sadistic and masochistic elements that appear as twisted versions of the male aggressiveness and female passivity associated with the old, genteel chivalric love tradition.

George, who appears often in the story wearing white, rides horses on his country estate, drinks expensive whiskey in his mint juleps, and is impetuous with his inferiors and sentimental with his children, represents a soulless version of the southern gentleman. His behavior toward his mistress is summarized as follows: “He either laughed at her or cursed her or, of course, at night would pet her. He hadn’t hit her.” The organized infidelities of his friends are further evidence of social breakdown; his allowing those friends to share his mistress, and his sons to see her, contrasts with his violent defense of those sons from her supposed advances and adds a final grotesque touch to the treatment of “social standards” in the story.

Of at least equal importance, however, is the...

(The entire section is 435 words.)