Unmailed, Unwritten Letters Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Unmailed letters exist in the everyday world, in some sort of objective reality, yet unwritten letters exist only in the mind. The title of the story is strategic; it forces the reader into the uncomfortable role of voyeur. As the reader looks over the shoulder of the writer of these “letters,” the reader is actually looking into her mind, reading her fears and desires. Because of this, the action of the story is not sequential but psychological.

In the first letter, addressed to her parents, the narrator discusses a change of doctors and dentists. The banality of this first paragraph (“everything is lovely here and I hope the same with you”) acts as a foil to the remainder of the letter. That is, the first paragraph is recognizable as a letter, perhaps “unmailed,” but the second paragraph is truly “unwritten” thoughts directed at the narrator’s parents. The change is obvious both in the subject matter (“your courage, so late in life, to take on space”) and in diction (“I think of you and I think of protoplasm being drawn off into space”). Such is the tension between writing and thought that the reader must continually bear in mind.

The second letter addresses Marsha Katz, who, it seems, has been sending odd gifts anonymously to the narrator. The narrator and Marsha’s father are having an affair; the precocious daughter is trying to incite guilt feelings in the narrator. At times the narrator tries to “read” the little girl’s meanings, to interpret her stories; one story deals with a dead white kitten, representing (the narrator thinks) the victimized daughter herself.

She “writes” to Greg, her husband, next. The letter is an attempt to remember...

(The entire section is 704 words.)