The Painted Door Analysis

Describe the characters of Steven and John in "The Painted Door" by Sinclair Ross.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sinclair Ross’s story involves adultery and betrayal.  “The Painted Door” comes to a tragic end with the suicide of John, the main character’s husband.  Sadly, it was all a mistake in the mind of the Ann, who knew that her husband was a better man than Steven. 

What are the differences between these men?


Steven was a single man who lived about two miles from Ann and John.  John considered him a friend.  He even invited Steven to stay with Ann until he returned from his trip to see his father.  Obviously, John trusted both Ann and Steven to eat, play cards, and talk until his return. 

Steven had already found his way into Ann’s mind.  They have danced several dances at the local school party.  Steven knew that Ann was lonely and needed someone with whom to talk. When Steven shows up just at the right time to help Ann with the stock, she was so glad and excited that he had come. He puts his arms around her to comfort her…and she enjoys it.

Ann describes Steven:

Steven’s smile lit up his still boyish face with a peculiar kind of arrogance…he was tall, erect, and square shouldered.  His hair was dark and trimmed, and his young lips curved soft and full. 

He aroused in Ann something that she had not felt in a long time: femininity and intrigue. He had an arrogance and insolence about him that permeated the room.

It was apparent that something was going to happen between the two of them. After Steven convinces Ann that John will not return until the morning, she relaxes with Steven.  When Ann awoke after their sex, she knew that what had happened meant nothing to Steven.  He would return to his farm as though nothing had happened.


Ann describes her husband as a good man.  He is a hard worker.  John loves his wife and wants to give her nice things after he pays off the mortgage on the farm. The narrator says that John is slow, unambitious, and content with his life and proud of his wife. He overwhelms her with his devotion and work that he does for her.

It is obvious that he loves his father.  In the blizzard, he is willing to walk ten miles both ways to be sure that he is okay. 

John trusts his neighbor and his wife.  He is willing to have them together until he returns that night. Unlike Steven, John will not dance nor let himself enjoy being at the party. 

One of the problems in his marriage comes from his lack of communication with his wife.  He does not talk.  John felt that his hard work was a gesture to show how much he cared for Ann.   She describes him as looking at with his stupid, brute eyes.  To Ann, it just meant that she had no one to talk to and had a life of loneliness and drudgery.

As a result of her liaison and dream of John coming in and finding them, Ann realizes that John is the better man.  As she sits in front of the fire, she decides that it is with him that she finds her future.

Unfortunately, it is not a dream.  John did return and found the two of them asleep in his bed.  He walks out the door and freezes to death.