Winter Night Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the evening darkens one winter night, the maid tells Felicia that once again her mother will not be coming home to their apartment until after Felicia is asleep. Felicia’s father is away in the war. As usual, a baby-sitter will come when it is time for the maid to leave. The maid defends the mother’s absence on the grounds that, after working hard all day, she deserves her freedom at night. The maids and the baby-sitters change frequently, allowing no time for Felicia to become attached to any of them. They do their jobs, providing no emotional nourishment for the little girl.

This night, the baby-sitter is early. She is a dark-haired, sad-eyed woman who immediately shows an interest in Felicia. Unlike the other sitters, this one offers to clean up after the girl’s dinner so she can be alone with her sooner. Whereas other sitters perfunctorily take care of Felicia, moving through a routine that gets her to bed as soon as possible, as if she were merely something that has to be disposed of, this sitter breaks the routine. She tells Felicia that she reminds her of another little girl whose birthday this happens to be. Always attentive to Felicia, the sitter talks to her about the other little girl. Felicia, in her innocence, is never aware, but the reader quickly realizes that the woman is talking about her experiences in a German concentration camp. Felicia interprets everything she hears according to her own experience, reflecting her own anxieties, brought on by the extended absence of the father, whom she hardly remembers, and the nightly absences of her mother.

The little girl in the concentration camp could not understand what was happening to her, why her mother was taken away, why she could not go to her ballet lessons. The baby-sitter took care of her after she was separated from her mother, until they, too, were separated; the baby-sitter assumes that the little girl died in the camp. Felicia falls asleep in the woman’s arms, and that is how Felicia’s mother finds them when she returns after midnight. The sight of the two of them in each other’s arms shocks her.