Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Through the trials of Violet Karl, Doris Betts continues a theme that pervades her work, most of which is concerned with people trying to find themselves within the lives in which they have been placed. Most often, this search comes in the form of an individual in search of love. Although her themes transcend geographical confines, Betts uses the isolation of the rural South to provide little obvious escape for her characters. However, these characters’ acquired psychological independence intensifies the need of all persons to strive to conquer their fears and low self-images.

Life is a quest or a pilgrimage. By selecting this motif for the thematic center and title for her story, Betts makes the seemingly least obvious heroine the stand-in for her readers who themselves, no doubt, attempted to find meaning in their lives.

Violet Karl seeks deliverance from the physical aberration that has made her an outcast through her deep belief that the evangelist in Tulsa will be her deliverer. When she arrives in Tulsa, she finds that her deliverer is not to be found and that his assistant regales her with prepared and standard abstract responses that do not address her needs.

When Violet returns to Fort Smith and finds Monty waiting for her as he had promised, she begins to push her deformity aside and realizes that she possesses something that may indeed be attractive. Her realization that Monty is not as bothered by her injured face as she is leads Violet to take the first step toward self-realization that is central to Betts’s fiction. At this point, the reader understands that, although the evangelical assistant made his comments out of habit, the problem that Violet faced did, indeed, lie more within her spirit than on her face.