Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two themes thread through “Maiden in a Tower,” which derives much of its power through the dissonance between the two themes. The first thread is developed in the opening pages, which describe Kimball Harris’s return to Salt Lake City with great clarity, noting details of the city that he remembers—such as parking regulations and the small size of the Salt Lake City phone book. Nothing can be more down-to-earth than his quest—making the final earthly dispositions for his dead aunt. However, this concentration also sets up the problem of the story, as Harris begins a re-examination of his youth. The past is resurrected by its connections to the tangible present, such as the hotel in which Harris caroused during Prohibition and the funeral home, with its direct connection to Holly. Harris then begins noticing the changes that have occurred over the past twenty-five years—such as a miniature golfing course that has been replaced by a car wash and the warped parquet floors of the house that are now covered by a deep-plush carpet. Inevitably, he directs his examination back to his own youth, and to what he himself has become since he last visited this apartment. He finds his life to be safe, clean, and regular, but not spontaneous, perhaps even moribund.

The title “Maiden in a Tower” highlights the story’s second thematic thread. Harris first describes Holly in almost mythic tones, as a “Circe or Proserpine,” and he compares her to one of...

(The entire section is 564 words.)