Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first sentence of the story states the theme: “There is a time of apprehension which begins with the beginning of darkness, and to which only the speech of love can lend security.” Children live with this concern continuously; adults have repressed it. In a world at war, the darkness is pervasive. Children and adults alike in this story suffer from the dearth of words of love. Both Felicia in New York and the little girl in the concentration camp are innocent victims of a world in which the adults are themselves too insecure to provide security for others. The kind baby-sitter can provide affection to both girls, but she cannot save either of them from the darkness of the adult world in which men kill children in the name of ideology and mothers spend their evenings in search of pleasure. Felicia’s mother could stay at home; the frequency of her absences, however, indicates that she is herself the victim of needs beyond her control. The maid says that the mother is buying her freedom and that nobody gets hurt by this. Regardless of the success of the mother in achieving this nebulous goal, Felicia is clearly being hurt by her neglect. Whatever freedom the mother gains is at a cost to her daughter. The kind baby-sitter knows that there is no escape and offers herself as a temporary stay to the darkness for Felicia. Through her own suffering she reaches out to Felicia for what solace, fellowship, and compassion she can provide.

Whether the mother leaves her child out of her own need or out of callous disregard, the result to Felicia is the same: No one is there to comfort her. Only the woman with the experience of the concentration camp understands the girl’s fear.