Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As is the case with many stories, the theme of “The Field of Mustard” depends on a series of carefully arranged contrasts and on a revelation that is unexpected, at least by one of the characters. The contrasts begin to become apparent when Rose reads the clipping that describes an idyllic storybook garden, populated with cherubic children. As an image of what the world is like, this garden contrasts sharply with the “actual” world of the story: a dark wood on a gloomy November day and a field of sour-smelling mustard plants. Dinah also mentions that she “loved a good flower” at the time that she met Rufus and wishes “the world was all a garden.” This contrast between the world as it is, a sour-smelling mustard field, and the world as the women would like it to be, an idyllic garden, is reinforced by the unfulfilled expectations and the disappointments of the women’s lives. Rose is childless; Dinah’s husband is “no man at all” since his illness. Although Dinah cares deeply about her children, they are an encumbrance that she never really wanted to have.

Almost certainly, the most fulfilling experience of Dinah’s life was her love affair with Rufus, a “fine bold man” whose sensuality and fondness for boisterous fun matched her own. The revelation that Rufus has also been Rose’s lover somehow diminishes, for Dinah, her own affair with him: It is evident that she was not as special to Rufus as he was to her. Rose’s bitter...

(The entire section is 467 words.)