Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ring Lardner is known primarily as a humorist, and humor has provided an important avenue for American self-expression. Mark Twain is perhaps the best example of this. Humor has enabled Americans to poke fun at themselves in a way that is often quite revealing but not as threatening as other forms of social criticism. “Some Like Them Cold” is a humorous story, particularly in its portrayal of the linguistic and behavioral foibles of its characters and their culture. However, this humor cloaks serious themes.

Indeed, the story’s resolution is sad rather than amusing. This is understandable because the story is a study of profound disappointment. Mabelle has thrown herself into conversation and then correspondence with a romantic stranger who might offer a way out of her unfulfilling existence, but she ends up only with a fantasy “man friend” and the specter of becoming an old maid. Charles fails to achieve success as a songwriter and at the story’s close has been reduced to the grind and insecurity of being a professional musician. In addition, one gets the definite idea that his marriage will offer little in the way of consolation if, indeed, it even lasts very long. Thus, the story begins with high hopes but ends with the defeat of both main characters.

A number of other pessimistic themes also emerge from the story. Self-delusion and, correspondingly, the absence of self-knowledge pave the way for the disappointments suffered by Charles and Mabelle, as does the fickleness of infatuation. All these things taken together add up to an expose of American manners and morals in the early twentieth century. One might also interpret the story in the light of feminist concerns, paying special attention to the lyrics of “When They’re Like You.”

However, the story is not completely gloomy. Neither Charles nor Mabelle is necessarily down for the count. One senses that both of the main characters are resilient enough to bounce back, though probably not into each other’s arms. These ships have passed in the night and are not likely to renew their encounter.