(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Some Like Them Cold” is a good example of Lardner’s cynicism. Charles Lewis, an ego-driven but simple songwriter on his way to New York, meets the vivacious Mabelle Gillespie at the train station in Chicago. Charles promises to write his “girlie” as soon as he gets to New York. He does so, making sure to represent himself as a genius destined for stardom who wants to find a good, loyal wife. He takes care to let Mabelle know that he does not care for girls “on the make” and is therefore concentrating on his music despite the advances of several fast New York girls.

Interpreting his letter as indicative of true romantic interest, Mabelle writes him several letters in which she passes herself off as a “nice girl” who would not normally talk to strange men in train stations, who is practical, and who is a demure homebody who likes to practice thriftiness and keep house. What becomes abundantly clear is that both Mabelle and Charles are opportunists. He is looking for a wife who is useful. To him, Mabelle just might fit that bill, a pretty girl who will not run him into the poorhouse and who will boost his massive ego.

To Mabelle, Charles is a meal ticket, a rising star to whom she might attach herself. Both are exposed as phonies. Charles forgets about Mabelle once he can arrange a marriage with the nasty sister of another New York musician, Paul Sears, whom he thinks can boost his career. His new fiancé is clearly a shallow materialist who hates him, but Charles does not care. All he values are fame and riches. Mabelle shows her true colors as well, once she finds out that her “Mr. Man” is going to marry another. She writes him a biting letter that shows that she is well acquainted with the ways of the world. The reader is left thinking that Mabelle will wind up a lonely and bitter schemer and Charles will wash out as a musician and be left with a shrewish wife who delights in tormenting him.

Some Like Them Cold Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Though “Some Like Them Cold” is told in an unorthodox way, its plot is quite simple. Charles Lewis and Mabelle Gillespie meet by chance in the Lasalle Street train station in Chicago. Charles is about to travel to New York City in order to pursue his fortune as a songwriter. Mabelle is waiting for her sister to arrive for a visit. Charles and Mabelle converse until Charles’s train arrives. Before leaving, Charles makes a bet with Mabelle that he will write to her from New York. This he does. Mabelle writes back, and the two carry on their flirtation by means of the United States Postal Service.

At first all goes well. Charles masks his loneliness and uncertainty in New York City by describing his adventures to Mabelle. These adventures fall into two categories: first, the quest for success in the songwriting business, and second, resistance against sexual temptation. Repeatedly, Charles resists the advances of overly aggressive, “painted” women. At the same time, though he teases and flatters Mabelle, he is careful not to cast doubt on her virtue. Mabelle is quite sensitive on this issue. She refers to herself as a “bad” girl for speaking to Charles without a “proper introduction,” and she assures Charles that she is not in the habit of doing such a thing. Definitely viewing her own aspirations as secondary to Charles’s grandiose ambitions, she passes over most of her own trials and tribulations as a single working girl in Chicago. Instead, through the eyes of her sister and friends, she provides a self-portrait for Charles’s inspection.

A “great home girl,” Mibs (as her friends call her) is “a great talker,” has a humorous nature, likes a good book, and loves to bathe. She goes out to dance or see a show only occasionally. In sum, Mabelle presents herself as modest, sociable, and wholesome. She also expresses boundless confidence in Charles’s songwriting ability and repeatedly assures...

(The entire section is 794 words.)