The story is told from third person perspective and focuses mainly on Mary Maloney. On face value it appears that she and her husband have a good, healthy marriage. She is a good and dedicated wife who delights in her husband and unborn child:
' There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. The drop of a head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil. Her skin -for this was her sixth month with child-had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look, seemed larger darker than before.'
She takes good care of her home and creates a peaceful and clean environment for her family:
The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight-hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.'
Mary appears to be the perfect wife as defined by earlier society such as the first decades of the twentieth century. She meets her husband at the door, takes his coat and hangs it in the closet. Then she provides his slippers and his drink. She sits down, sewing quietly because she knows he needs quiet time to unwind after the day's work. She knows him intimately, ' She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides.' She loved him for never complaining about being tired, until this night.
On the other hand, Patrick seems to provide in their material needs. He does what is expected of a good husband - he goes to work, he comes back at the exact same time every day, he follows the same routine day in and day out.
The audience is able to detect the obvious boredom and dullness of this life and it is therefore not a complete surprise when he announces on this night that he wants to leave her. He promises to take care of Mary and the child financially and then adds rather insensitively, 'But there needn’t really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.'
At this point it becomes clear that their marriage was not all that blissful. Mary was living a dream where 'She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel-almost as a sunbather feels the sun-that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together.' She was fulfilled as a wife and mother-to-be, but her husband was not.
The reader feels sympathy for Mary as she stumbles through denial and efforts to maintain normality. When she eventually kills her husband, some readers may feel it is justified as she had committed her whole life to pleasing this man and was rejected. Others may feel that her devotion was suffocating and that the marriage was always going to end in a break-up of some sort.