Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Just as “Five-Twenty” marks the end of the day, it also marks symbolically the end of Ella’s routine of meaningless suffering, yet Ella is left with only an ambivalent redemption at the end of the story. Ella possesses an inherent goodness, embodying Patrick White’s belief, expressed in his autobiographical Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait (1982), that “only love redeems. . . . I mean the love shared with an individual. . . . [I]t is making do . . . whatever our age, in a world falling apart.” There is little apparent reason for Ella’s goodness, for her devotion as mate to a brutally insensitive Royal, but her capacity for sharing love is beyond doubt. With the man in the Holden, sharing love becomes a possibility.

Ella’s goodness, however, has suffered at the cost of her desire; she has repressed her desire for expressing affection, or receiving it, just as she has given up hope for a child. Royal’s frustration of Ella’s affections does not, however, succeed entirely: Her obsession with the man in the Holden becomes the blossoming of her desire just as her devotion to the phallic cinerarias signals the coming opportunity for love, for kindness. With the rise of her desire in the wake of her lost object of devotion, Ella becomes a whole person with a last hope for love. The man’s own implicit suffering because of his deformities echoes Ella’s suffering in her subservience to Royal. In her unconscious fantasy of loving...

(The entire section is 419 words.)