Sinclair Ross presents a woman who does not feel fulfilled in her marriage in the story “The Painted Door.” The setting is an isolated Canadian farm during a winter blizzard in the 1930s. Ann finds little solace in her marriage. Adultery and betrayal are the topics examined in this story.
After seven years, Ann is tired of waiting for her life to begin. John is a good man who works from dawn to dusk to prove that he is devoted and loyal to Ann. To Ann, her life is boring and unsatisfying. Loneliness and depression have made her life less than ideal.
Worried about his father who lives ten miles away, John plans to walk to see about him and return in the evening. He promises Ann that he will be back to be with her. He will send their neighbor Steven over to stay with her later in the afternoon.
Ann does not want him to go; however, if he does go, she will paint the inside of the house. Selfishly, Ann thinks only of herself. Neither John nor his father are given consideration by Ann.
Finally, she realizes that she needs to take care of the animals in the barn. Ann tries to go but the wind and blizzard are so bad that she cannot make it. About that time, Steven shows up. He takes care of the animals for her. Steven assures her that John will not try to make it home because it would be too dangerous.
Betrayal and the “Dream”
Ann prepares a meal. They try to play cards, but there is a lot of tension between them. The couple winds up having sex and going to sleep in her bed. During the night, Ann dreams that John is there, sees them [Steven and Ann] in bed, and leaves. Ann looks around and decides it was just a dream.
Steven sleeps soundly and Ann realizes that this has meant nothing to him. He has no guilt about sleeping with his best friend and neighbor’s wife. She compares her John with Steven and finally understands that it is John that she really wants. John loves her and would do anything for her.
But where is he? It is now morning, and John still has not returned from his father’s house.
They found him the next day, less than a mile from home. Drifting with the storm, he had run against his own pasture fence and overcome had frozen there, erect still, both hands clasping fast the wire. He shouldn’t have tried.
"She looked past them a moment, then as if to herself said simply, “If you knew him, though - John would try.”
It was not a dream!
They bring in John’s body for Ann to prepare his body for burial. When Ann was alone with him, she took his hand to hold it. In the palm of his hand was a paint smear.
What does this mean? The dream that Ann thought that she had was, in fact, reality. John had come inside the house after walking ten miles in one of the worst storms in the history of the area. He wanted to get back to his Ann. What does he find but his neighbor in bed with his wife.
John did not know what to think. His life was no longer important, so he went into the storm and died from hypothermia.
How does she know that John saw them? He placed his hand on the door that Ann had just painted and got a paint smudge on his palm as he opened the door.
Can the reader imagine the devastation that John must have experienced. What a tragedy it was for him? Ann realized too late that John was the kind of man that every woman wants—loving, devoted, kind and gentle. Now, she really is alone.