Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Growing up through the process of change is what this story is about. There are two groups of people involved in this maturation process: two adults and two adolescents.

Of the two adults, one, Mrs. Delahanty, tries futilely and mistakenly to help Mr. Delahanty grow up physically and mentally. Since Mr. Delahanty is a mature adult, Jessamyn West implies, he should not be forced or nudged by his wife to change; his strenuous running and his intellectual schedule-keeping merely make him look ridiculous in the eyes of his adolescent daughter. On the other hand, Mrs. Delahanty does not try to change herself. It is interesting to note that Mr. Delahanty does not try to change his wife at all; he knows that he should not force change on another adult.

The two adolescents, Cress and Bernadine, try to change their parents, who they think are ignorant of the ways of the modern world and naïve in social graces. Bernadine shuts her parents out of her life and refuses to accept their advice. She simply refuses to change her ways and to grow up. Cress, on the contrary, keeps an open mind and remains open to change. In only two or three minutes of conversation heard through a back porch door, Cress gets to know her parents better, and the change in perspective gives her a newfound maturity.

West seems to imply that refusal to grow up and change is a destructive process. Bernadine is described as a “femme fatale”: She is capable of performing only Salome’s dance of death; she is also somehow involved in the death of her boyfriend Neddy.