Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Apart from its absorbing interest as a story, “The Monkey” explores, through a decadent romanticism, the theme of captivity: the struggle between those who would be free and the demonic intelligence that would bind them. Everyone in the story is a captive of Christian morality and bourgeois convention, or threatened by them. Those who accept their lot are pathetic: The women at the convent—a sanctuary that is also a place of confinement—live in their memories or on news from the outside; Pastor Rosenquist, shackled to poverty, finds solace in the credit for virtuous behavior that, he trusts, he has accumulated in the other world; the count, a prisoner to family name and obligation, forgets to live in the present and escapes into poetry. Boris and Athena are different: They are young and assert their freedom. However, they, too, are finally bound.

Boris prefers the chaotic to the ordered world, the romantic and theatrical to the mundane and customary. The constellation of The Great Bear teaches him the lesson of preserving individuality in a crowd. His bid for freedom, of which his unsanctioned sexual behavior is the most flagrant expression, backfires; circumstances force him into the bondage of matrimony.

Athena, like the virgin goddess after whom she is named, is a huntress, invincible and strong, not a female who may be pursued and caged into matrimony by men, especially not by Boris, the decadent, imaginative, halfhearted suitor....

(The entire section is 446 words.)