Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The misadventures of Americans in Europe make up an old theme in American literature. Usually, as best illustrated in the many treatments of the topic by Henry James, the Americans are ingenuous and in danger of coming to grief at the hands of the more worldly Europeans who are eager to exploit them. The story of Clarence Feiler becomes, then, a special version of the initiation rite of the young naif: the innocent abroad and all that happens to him. The naïveté of his desire to “bring the testimony of a great man before the world” appears comic in the light of what befalls Feiler, but there is no real evidence at the story’s end that he is yet aware of how ludicrous he must have appeared to the Spaniards. His obvious bitterness, as well as the fact that on the train ride back to Madrid “he sat numb and motionless” suggest, however, that self-knowledge may not be far off for Feiler.

A special aspect of the theme is the hostility toward Americans that shows up in the motif of “la bomba atomica.” Miss Walsh picks up this theme first, when in a lament about the excessive rain she grumbles to Feiler that “You people may be to blame for that.” Feiler is astonished to find himself a member of any group suspected of subverting the average mean rainfall in Spain, and his ensuing dialogue with Miss Walsh is truly comic. He can only protest “I am not all Americans. You are not all the English. . .. You are not Winston Churchill, I am...

(The entire section is 439 words.)