Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A young woman’s concern with her weight and popularity can be found in much of the fiction of southern writer Ellen Gilchrist. Although LeLe’s lies about herself, and her hypocrisy in befriending a girl with a wooden arm only for the sake of her own reputation, give a somewhat negative impression of LeLe, the reader is moved to sympathize with her when she is confronted about her weight by Fielding and to enjoy the clever lie about a thyroid condition that makes Fielding feel bad for bringing up the subject.

Ironically, LeLe comments earlier on how much she likes the fact that her new southern friends are so much less competitive and more polite than her friends in Indiana. With Fielding’s rude remarks, the reader realizes that this story can be viewed as part of the body of postbellum plantation fiction that tries to deconstruct images of the South as paradisiacal and all southerners as easygoing and mannerly ladies and gentlemen. Sadly, in spite of Fielding’s hurtful remarks about her weight, LeLe still wishes to impress him; that, rather than the accomplishment itself, is the main reason she wants to swim across the lake with him.

Water and swimming also are found repeatedly in Gilchrist’s work, symbolizing the source of life and baptism into a new life, and usually associated with her female characters who are empowered in this medium as they are not on land. Until her swim, LeLe’s reputation is based on deceit. On immersing...

(The entire section is 421 words.)