Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of Herbert Gold’s story and its basic situation clearly signal his intention to retell the story of Susanna and the elders from the Book of Daniel in the Apocrypha. The biblical story is a simple account of Susanna, a young married woman who walks daily in her garden, where she is seen by two elders who lust after her. One day when she is alone in the garden, the elders rush up to her and tell her that if she does not yield to their desires they will say that a young man has been with her. However, Susanna is a righteous woman who says that she would rather be at their mercy than lie with them and sin against the Lord. Susanna is vindicated when Daniel tricks the elders into giving conflicting testimony. The biblical story embodies the conflict between the sacred and the profane and exemplifies the triumph of the spirit over the things of the world.

In giving this universal situation and theme a modern setting, Gold has no trouble creating a similitude for the lusting elders in the men on the beach who watch the girl and wait for her suit to rip. However, Gold transforms Susanna’s trust in God in the Apocrypha story to the diving girl’s single-minded demand for perfection, and he also expands the profane world to include not only the lustful men, but also the women who envy the girl’s innocence, purity, and quest for perfection.

The girl is obviously elevated from the crowd on the beach, sufficient unto herself, dedicated to her discipline, concerned only with the demands of perfection. Her ambi-tion has no practical purpose and thus seems madness to the watchers. Although the watchers focus on the body of the girl, which is desired by the men and envied by the women, the girl herself is seemingly unaware that she even has a body; the complete perfection of her dive, if such were possible, would mean the use of the body as a means of its own transcendence; she wishes to create an alternate world superior to ordinary reality. As a modern-day treatment of the Susanna and the elders story, the end of the story is a vindication of the girl’s innocence and superiority.