Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The themes of “Walter Briggs” are revealed mainly through the character of the protagonist and the nature of the conflict with his wife. Beneath the surface of the memory game in the car there is a quiet but strong undercurrent of resentment and jealousy. Jack begins the marital hostilities by remarking that Clare’s comments at the party about Sherman Adams (a controversial figure in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration) were “stupid.” Then, talking about another person at the party, Jack observes that Foxy “loves you so.”

This comment is followed by a series of exchanges in which Jack remembers attractive physical features of females at the camp, which provoke responses from Clare. He recalls the girl “with the big ears who was lovely,” and then defends her pride in her ears when Clare disparages the girl’s wearing of “those bobbly gold gypsy rings.” Jack also calls to mind a mentally disturbed girl who was “awfully good-looking,” and a woman named Peg Grace who had “huge eyes.” Clare counters with the observation that Peg had a “tiny long nose with the nostrils shaped like water wings” and further remembers that Peg’s boyfriend was sexy in his “tiny black bathing trunks.” Jack then recalls a German kitchen boy “with curly hair he thought was so cute.” Clare, in response, explains, “You didn’t like him because he was always making eyes at me.” Jack says that he really did not like the German kitchen boy because he had beaten him in a broad-jump competition and that he was pleased when the German was, in turn, beaten by someone else.

Jack’s competitive instinct is one reason for the exchanges between Jack and his wife. Early in the story, the author explains that Jack found the memory contest deficient: “A poor game, it lacked the minimal element of competition needed to excite Jack.” In this light, the comments about other women are...

(The entire section is 789 words.)