Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Essentially, “Prelude” is about time and place as they affect a single family. There is the time that is measured by the clock and to which the characters respond with daily routines; there is the time of a larger order, that of generations in history; there is time in an even larger, grander sense, the time of nature, of the movement of the planets through the heavens, rotating about the sun. A corresponding sense of place is achieved as the family moves through prescribed paths and areas. The family moves from one house to another, from city to country; the characters move from house to garden and back again into the house; they move from family rooms to private rooms, and finally they move from reality to dream to fantasy in the innermost circle of all.

Time and place are parallel. The personal time that governs daily activities is ordered by clock time, which, in turn, corresponds with the movement of the earth around the sun. The planetary motions suggest that larger order of historical time made parallel with the generations of the family delineated in all its tenses, past, present, and future. An absolute time transcends planetary motions, extending beyond the finalities of life and death, and accounts for the individual’s attempts to impose structure, order, and meaning on life, to escape the narrow boundaries imposed by life to freer realms of death, to overcome the restrictions imposed by society. Such is the closely woven complex of relationships in “Prelude” that at any specific moment in time, a larger construct of meaning can be derived.


(The entire section is 652 words.)

Prelude; and At the Bay Themes

Women dominate the Burnell household. Even though Stanley Burnell rules when he is at home, there is always the sense that he is an intrusive...

(The entire section is 459 words.)