Study Guide

Paradise

by Edna O’Brien

Paradise Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

She the two characters in this story are referred to only by the use of the pronoun) has come to stay with her older lover on a beautiful island. Fields, trees, ocean, and especially the mountains, which “seemed to be made of collapsible substance so insubstantial,” capture her interest. She has come out of love and desire for him, although their worlds are different. She “is an inland person,” who likes “roses in a field, thin rain and through it the roses and the vegetation.” He loves the ocean, loves to sail, fish, and hunt; discovery is what matters to him. For her, the “sea is dark as the shells of mussels, and signifies catastrophe.” He surrounds himself with friends, of whom he is contemptuous but who amuse him. They watch her with curiosity, knowing, as does she, that in the past there have been other wives, other women for him.

He has arranged for her to learn to swim: An instructor has been brought in for this purpose. She is afraid of the water, but she knows that she must adapt to this new medium if she is to win him. Every day, she fearfully enters the water, at first holding the instructor’s hands, then a board, and later, a rope, unwilling to give herself up to the water.

She is responsible for the supervision of the cooks; she must be nice to his friends, who cut her (and often one another) with their subtle malice; and she must prepare for the day on which she must demonstrate to him, and to his friends, her ability to swim. Slowly, she masters her new environment. She reads every day, looking for amusing anecdotes to tell his friends at table. She goes out on her lover’s boat...

(The entire section is 669 words.)