"The Painted Door" by Sinclair Ross centers on a woman who finds herself unhappy living on the farm far away from any companionship. The story takes place in the early part of the 20th century in a rather desolate farming area in Canada during the most bitter part of the winter. In fact, during the story, a terrible blizzard breaks which becomes a major part of the story.
The protagonist is Ann who has lived on the farm with her husband of seven years. Her life is tedious and lonely. Her nearest neighbor is Stephen, a bachelor living on a farm about two miles away. John, Ann’s husband, has little ambition other than make his farm work. He loves Ann and is very proud that she is his wife. On the other hand, Ann finds much that she is unhappy about in her life.
John needs to go to see his father who lives five miles away. The weather is so bad and the snow is so deep that he will not be able to take a wagon. He will have to walk. This means that he may not be back at night. Ann has never been alone on the farm. John promises her that he will stop by and tell Stephen to come over and keep her company until John gets back.
Ann knows that John should not try to walk in the dark. He tells her that he always comes home to her. She will spend her day painting the inside of the house knowing that it is too cold for the paint to dry. The painting is a symbol of her unhappiness and boredom that she faces in her life. She has nothing else to do with her time. As the day passes, she realizes that she will have to go out to feed the stock in the barn. If she does not, they could possibly freeze in the night.
Dressing to defray the weather, she holds on to a rope but the wind blows her down. When Ann gets inside the house, she realizes that if John tries to come home he probably will not make it. .
Thankfully, Stephen comes and does the feeding for her. A range of emotions encapsulates Ann. She feels almost like a girl, alone with another man. She surrenders herself to her loneliness and temptation, and her relationship with Steven is consummated.
As she lies in bed with Stephen, Ann realizes that she has done a terrible thing. Unsure whether she is awake or dreaming, Ann visualizes shadows and even a phantom like appearance of John. Ann believes that she dreaming, but knows that she has betrayed her marriage and John. The ending of the storm signals the return of Ann to rational thinking.
Ann understands that Stephen does not feel as she does. He has no guilt. It happened, and it is over. Comparing Stephen to John, she finds that John is the man that she loves and needs.
John is found the next day less than a mile from the house. When they left her alone with the body, Ann picked up John’s hand. There in the inside of his hand was a splotch of white paint.
Her eyes dimmed, still it was such a strong and
patient hand; then, transfixed, they suddenly grew
wide and clear. On the palm, white even against its
frozen whiteness, was a little smear of paint.
He had been there and had touched the painted door when he left. He no longer cared whether he lived or died after seeing his wife and friend in bed together.