Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Caroline Gordon’s story deals primarily with relationships and how human beings treat one another respectfully or disrespectfully. The value of personal relationships is most important to the author, but it is made more complex by her addition of multiple layers of racial customs, sexual mores, and economic pressures derived from the story’s locale and its era. Most striking is Jim’s ambivalent attitude toward the black characters. Jim wants to share work and profits with Tom, a friend from childhood. He recognizes Tom’s intelligence and ability, and he has greater respect for him than for the white man Bud.

Frankie, however, bewilders Jim. He cannot acknowledge her physical attractiveness, so he labels his attitude toward her as dislike. In response to Bud’s drunken escapade, which repulses him, he wants to rationalize his behavior by using the old racial code instead of common sense and morality. Has he done the right thing—preventing a rape and a possible killing—for the wrong reason? He does not know, or will not tell, whether he has fought with Bud because he feels responsible for protecting Tom and Frankie because he feels attracted to Frankie, or because he has higher standards of sexual morality than Bud has. Jim’s claim that he has acted in order to stop a black man from attacking a white man is shocking, as the reader knows that he is morally right in refusing to permit the white man to indulge in a reprehensible custom.

In the end, this ambiguity concerning southern racial relationships is viewed harshly; however, it is anticipated in the sexual connotations of the story’s title. As a potential victim and scapegoat, Frankie has honor and she deserves respect. If her honor is merely “quaint,” or if a sexual pun is suggested here, Gordon is asserting that men of this time and place consider woman’s honor out-of-date.