Two important themes in the story are sexual ambiguity and victimization, what critic Kate Fullbrook calls the "inescapable victimization and universal warping of desire." The sexual orientation of each of the three main characters is in some way twisted or ambiguous. Raoul Duquette, the narrator of the story, had been repeatedly molested by an African laundress when he was a child, starting at the age of ten. His loss of innocence brought an early end to his childhood so that he "seemed to understand everybody and be able to do ... what he liked with everybody." His English friend Dick Harmon has never been able to break the bonds of a domineering mother and is apparently unable to maintain relationships with either women or men. The young woman in the story. Mouse, may be fragile and delicately attractive, but she has masculine characteristics and several times is likened to a boy by Duquette. The story concerns the victimization of Mouse when she is abandoned in a strange city by both men. They, of course, have both been victimized early in their lives by women.
The mask is a more general theme in this story. All the characters in some way mask their true feelings and identities from others and from themselves. Raoul Duquette in particular practices a kind of conscious self-deceit. At one point, he describes himself practicing his pose as a man of letters in front of a mirror; he decides that if one looks the part, one must be the part.
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