Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Medusa’s Ankles,” A. S. Byatt dramatizes Susannah’s mid-life crisis. The realization that she is no longer attractive generates within her a sense of loss, anger, and frustration. The relationship Byatt creates between her protagonist and Lucian, the hairstylist, shows the differing ways men and women confront aging. In addition, the invocation of the Medusa myth in the title amplifies Susannah’s plight.

The salon serves as a figurative fountain of youth. Although Susannah understands that Lucian, the shop owner, is self-centered, she tolerates his weaknesses because she relies on his skills to enhance her appearance. He, in turn, enables her to avoid the fact that she is growing old. Like Susannah, Lucian is also in denial. He is nearing middle age himself because he admits to having a teenage daughter, but conveniently, her exact age slips his memory. He bedecks his salon with glossy photos of youthful faces and surrounds himself with young employees. When he recognizes physical aging in his wife, he deserts her for a younger girlfriend.

Lucian’s actions, which serve as an undercurrent to Susannah’s dilemma, animate her calamity. In the pivotal scene when Susannah enters the remodeled salon, she sacrifices her own views to appease Lucian. When he solicits her opinion of the renovations, she claims it looks “very smart.” However, Lucian has discarded the feminine décor of the salon in favor of harder, colder images....

(The entire section is 570 words.)