Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of this story is deliberately ambiguous: Jordan’s End is both the name of the house and a declaration about the fate of its owners. As does Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher, the condition of the physical place wherein resides the latest in the line of Jordans mirrors the condition of that line, and by extension, the decline of a way of life. (This theme was taken up by William Faulkner a few years after the publication of this story.) However, Ellen Glasgow holds out some hope for the future in the person of Judith Jordan. Judith tells the doctor, “I must go on.” The reader believes she will, heartrending though her plight may be.

It was narrow-mindedness born of pride, ethnocentrism born of ignorance, that led families such as the Jordans to the kind of inbreeding that produced insanity in generation after generation. The way of life, the way of thinking, and the refusal to admit that things had changed—all were causes for the decline of southern aristocracy. These two young people, so much in love, had come to Jordan’s End full of hope and had seen that hope dashed by the onset of Alan’s mental illness. It is not, however, the house that destroys these young lives; rather, they are destroyed by their unswerving allegiance to a belief system that is false at its very base. In some sense, then, this is really a kind of ghost story. It is the ghost of the past that haunts the corridors of Jordan’s End. It is a belief in this ghost that deranges succeeding generations of Jordan males.