Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is about the power of desire and the response to loneliness that result from selfishness. The daughter is the victim of her parents’ divorce and of her mother’s inattentiveness, lies, and neglect. Mr. Arnette is also a man whose desires have been squelched, a lonely victim of an unfortunate domestic situation.

Fire is used as a primary motif in the story. The emotionally wounded daughter responds to her domestic context by destructive acts of pyromania that get her institutionalized. The motif of fire is further used to suggest the growing potential passion between her and Mr. Arnette. The daughter says that fire “is yours for one glorious moment . . . but wait one moment too long, get caught up in its beauty, and it has grown beyond your control. And it is that moment that I live for . . . when the flame rose above my head: not from fear, but from ecstasy.” Additionally, the fire motif connects to the allusion to Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” in which the question of the world’s doom is compared to the vicious emotional capacity of human behavior: “Some say the world will end in fire,/ Some say in ice.” Frost’s poem suggests that desire (fire) can be destructive and could cause the world to end, but rather than meeting with a physical end, the world might become a place not worth living in because of the pain of neglect and human indifference (ice).

The allusion to the poem reveals the narrator’s growing...

(The entire section is 464 words.)