Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The House Behind” is a bitter parable, less than four pages long, of the frustrations, resentments, and social upheavals engendered by class differences. The living conditions emphasize the gap between the social classes. The tenants in the front house have maids who live in rooms on the top floor with a view of the spires of the city, but the tiny cubicles of the house behind open only onto a dusty corridor that leads to a bathroom near the back stairwell shared by the indigent students and bachelors. No spires grace their horizons as they peer out from under the eaves of the house behind.

However, the narrator insists that these discrepant living conditions do not explain all the hostility between the two houses. To be always at the rear is humiliating to the spirit. The students in the house behind may consider their situation to be only temporary, a mere rough patch on their road to success in the whole wide front house of the world, but for the narrator’s neighbors, working women without husbands or solace from family, the sense of worldly defeat must be intense. The narrator speculates on the motive of the murderer, a seemingly respectable married man. He wonders if he was frustrated because he had come to understand that his dreams of living in the front house would never be realized.

The murder poisons the already unpleasant air. Class conflict breeds fear in the front house and sullenness in the house behind. People from the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)