Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Labeling “A Rose in the Heart of New York” a “feminist” story should not be construed as reducing it to a simplistic set of assumptions about life and literature. Rather, it powerfully and movingly dramatizes exactly what it means to be a woman in modern rural Irish society. The story’s feminist theme can best be seen in what the women devote themselves to but what fails or even enslaves them: men, the Church, other women.

Men are less an outright evil than they are facets of a brutal, unyielding landscape. The dominant male figure in the story is the father, a violent drunkard who “takes” the mother in scenes of intercourse more reminiscent of impalement than love or even lust. Two of the daughter’s most vivid memories are of the time when the father went after the mother with a hatchet and a later episode when he tried to shoot her. His mellowing with age is less a sign of growing tenderness than of growing senility. If the men in the daughter’s life are less violent, neither are they much more satisfying. Her first sexual encounter is banally sordid. She marries a man who dominates every facet of her life, even down to how she should fold her clothes. Rather than a relationship of mutual growth and sharing, her marriage feels “like being in school again.” Subsequent affairs bring mostly guilt. In short, not a single man in the story brings to the mother or the daughter the slightest modicum of happiness.

Historically, especially in Ireland, when all else fails, the woman can take solace in the Church. Such is hardly the case in “A Rose in the Heart of New York.” Religion is not an overt theme in the story, but a rich pattern of religious...

(The entire section is 692 words.)