Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Wish House” was originally published with two obscure poems, one of which, “Late Came the God,” provides important commentary on the story. It relates how a vengeful God inflicts continual pain and distress on a woman in payment of a debt. This theme of divine retribution for past sins, real or imagined, forms a minor element in “The Wish House.” However, the last lines of the poem reveal the first of the story’s main themes, the redemptive, self-sacrificial love of woman for man: “Alone, without hope of regard or reward, but uncowed,/ Resolute, selfless, divine/ These things she did in Love’s honour.”

This love is unrelated to merit or desert; it sees no fault in the object of love, or seeing, chooses to disregard. There is nothing romantic about it. It is a practical, even instinctive, orientation of the will and heart, in obedience to an inner impulse. The theme has profoundly Christian implications. Mrs. Ashcroft is almost Christ-like in her ability, and her willingness, to take on herself the sins and burdens of another, motivated by the highest love. The wound in her leg will suggest, for the Christian reader, the stigmata of the Christian saint, the wounds received in imitation of Christ. The old Mrs. Ashcroft, chattering away to her friend in country dialect, is perhaps an unlikely figure to remind one of the divine, but the implication of the story is that the simplest folk become godlike, and possess godlike powers, when...

(The entire section is 452 words.)