Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Truth and Lies” is really the story of a life that has been sustained through compromise. Sarah Wilson never got what she wanted from life, and as the action of this story develops, the reader sees a woman desperately trying to cling to whatever she can. In this case, she is clinging to a marriage that was initially based on need rather than on love. The stationmaster tells Ella that Sarah got out of Kinley, but that her mistake was in coming back. He asks her what brought her back: “Love, won’t it, Sarah?” and she replies, “I don’t remember that far. Maybe it was,” and changes the subject.

Sarah has no illusions about Nathan. The first time she ever saw him, he was drunk, and he has more or less stayed drunk ever since. He told her on the first night she met him at a Christmas party that he was running away from himself, that he had hurt women in the past. By the time Sarah married him, she had grown accustomed to not having what she wanted: She had no siblings, her mother died trying to give her one, her father died, and she learned that the property that she had always thought would be hers would not be. The reader is also told that even in her youth, Sarah’s face had “never won praise.”

Sarah has lied to Ella, quite unnecessarily, in the hope of making her lose interest in Nathan. When she finally realizes that Ella knows that she has lied to her, Sarah can only say to herself as she drives her car homeward alone, killing a rabbit that runs into its path, “How could I, why should I tell the truth when I thought I could save what was left of our life.”

One is left with the feeling that nothing will change. Nathan will go on drinking. He will find other women. However, he needs Sarah, just as Sarah needs him, and they will play out the charade that they began twenty years earlier because they can do little else and because they have grown accustomed to living in this fashion.