Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Impulse” Aiken depicts the psychological problems of a repressed, insecure “loner” who attempts to escape from his problems and whose immature concern for self prevents him from seeing things as they are. His “impulsive” theft is clearly premeditated, the act of an adult who has never “grown up” and who has never had to accept the consequences of his actions. Though he is directly responsible for the theft, the paranoid Michael Lowes sees his predicament as the result of betrayal and “bad luck.”

Michael’s bridge game is twice associated with “escape” from what he sees as a dreary routine naturally repugnant to a man of his education and cultivation. He seeks a diversion, significantly a “game,” which is how he persists in seeing shoplifting, a crime usually associated with youngsters. Alcohol is one method of escape, and although Aiken stresses its importance to Michael, it is not the alcohol that prompts the theft. If Michael is a “trifle tight,” he is not unsteady on his feet, and his behavior is extremely methodical. He “examines” the “wares” with a “critical and appraising eye” and carefully considers what to steal. Because Aiken has associated “impulses” with sex and theft, it is significant that Michael’s reaction to the safety-razor set is “love at first sight” and that the set is twice described as a “victim.” The theft of the set becomes a hostile act for the repressed Michael, who...

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