Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The brief mention of Elise’s relatives early in the story describes a severely dysfunctional family. She refers to her mother’s being in a “constant state of two-mindedness, like having two heads,” because of her father’s infidelities. In contrast to Elise’s sister, a conventional wife, mother, and member of the Junior League, Elise has become the black sheep of the family—following her father’s example in her behavior, but splitting herself off from her feelings like her mother. Although in the 1960’s, when the story was first published, child molestation and incest were closeted subjects, it is hard to read this story decades later without identifying them as a subtext.

H. W. Blattner’s Elise is a strongly drawn character, overshadowing the other players in her life’s drama. She is a tragic figure, cut off from her family, without any friends, contemptuous of the men who support her, and descending into drug-and alcohol-induced madness. Although she refers to herself several times as being well versed in sexual techniques, her sexual proficiency is never mentioned by any of the male characters, all of whom seem to be magnetized merely by her beauty. When Richard expresses dissatisfaction with her behavior, he refers to the fact that she will ruin her health and beauty; nevertheless, she believes he is only concerned that she may not be able to keep performing sexually.

There is no indication that Richard ever treated...

(The entire section is 491 words.)