Lispeth Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The satiric purpose of the author is achieved by an accumulation of ironies. The epigram at the head of this story begins, “Look, you have cast out love! What Gods are these you bid me please?” Because the central ethical value of Christianity is love, casting out love is the most unchristian of acts. This is exactly what Christian missionaries and imperialists do. In the name of superior faith and breeding, they substitute deceit and untruth where all-embracing love should be. As a result, the gods that the Englishman, the chaplain, and the chaplain’s wife worship become questionable, a “tangled Trinity” to a simple Hill-girl.

Ironies abound. Not only are Christians and imperialists unchristian and ordinary, but it is Lispeth—the heathen, the savage, the one guilty, according to the English, of shameless folly—who demonstrates a love that is unalloyed devotion and trust.

By baptizing Lispeth, the missionaries hold out the promise of a new and better life of the spirit. Instead of keeping that promise, they kill her, as she declares; they kill her faith in their God; they kill her trust in their way of life; they abandon her to social evils; and indirectly they ruin her unspoiled beauty. They try to put a free and innocent Hill-girl with the beauty and poise of Diana, a pagan goddess, into their own kind of garb—gaudy floral prints—that in this context may well be a metaphor for ostentation and lack of sensitivity.

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(The entire section is 416 words.)