Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bill and Arlene Miller’s violations of propriety and privacy may come as a shock to the reader. The trust given them by the Stones is betrayed by these pallid people in a series of abuses that escalate in offensiveness. Readers may experience a further shock as they recognize in the Millers’ behavior their own suppressed impulses to snoop, their own persistent urges to know others’ most intimate secrets. In this regard, the Millers mirror universal impulses. Indeed, to gain such knowledge is a kind of intercourse accompanied by a secret thrill, a psychic rape for the reader as it is for Bill and Arlene. Readers may even realize to their chagrin that as readers—literary voyeurs—they, like Bill and Arlene, are entering into and vicariously sharing the closely held secrets of others’ lives.

The story seems to suggest, however, that this impulse to know, explore, and even take over others’ lives is exacerbated in Bill and Arlene’s case by the emotional and spiritual emptiness in their lives. The protagonists represent the condition of modern man and woman, hollow at their centers; they are humans who know they are missing something. They believe that what they are missing is possessed by others but withheld from them. Their belief is mistaken, it seems, for the story suggests that others may be in exactly the same condition.

The Millers, like so many others, seek to fill the void in their inner lives with things they can take...

(The entire section is 557 words.)