Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Metamorphosis of the mind or a change of mind is the main theme of the story. Jessamyn West dwells primarily on the psychological conversion that Jess Birdwell experiences in his relationship with his wife. He learns a few fundamental truths about Eliza.

Because Eliza is steady and dependable, Jess does not have to worry too much about his wife. The dependability of the woman consists in her ability to change and give new life; she is like Mother Nature, who changes with the seasons and brings forth new life in spring, in spite of the ravages of time, the destructiveness of winter, and the depredations of the male and animal world on her. For example, two men, Jess and Enoch, try to sabotage nature’s plan for new geese by puncturing the goose eggs. Eliza, however, salvages her life-giving project by giving life to a new goose and by raising her with love and tenderness—that is the art of life and the poetry of spring found missing in Jess’s life.

Indeed, Eliza changes with the seasons by being productive and by nurturing new life. In this process, West implies, the woman changes even the man who refuses to change himself and who wants only to change the woman by making her in his own image and likeness. Jess admits at the conclusion of the story, “I learned first, dependability is woman’s greatest virtue . . . don’t try to change her. Not even in spirit . . . Don’t need to waste any worry on the woman.”

Jess also learns another truth about men: They are not as reliable as he thought they were. Not all men, however, would learn this truth. The Enochs of this world are not an extinct species.