In John Collier's short story "The Chaser," what is the difference between glove-cleaner and life-cleaner?I want to know if there is a difference between the two cleaners.
There is no difference between glove-cleaner and life-cleaner. Like the term "the chaser," these are all euphemisms for a poison the old man is selling to customers who have bought his love potion and now want to get rid of the woman who has fallen so madly in love that she will not let him have any privacy or freedom. The old man speaks in guarded language because he is actually a criminal dealing in lethal drugs and acting as an accessory to murder before the fact. The story is rather gruesome, but Collier characteristically makes it amusing by the tone and the inclusion of bizarre details, such as the fact that a man could operate such a business in the middle of a modern American city like New York.
John Collier's unusual and sophisticated short stories are available in an anthology titled Fancies and Goodnights. A few of them, such as "De Mortuis," deal with the same theme of men murdering their wives, but there are many others which are more unique in their concepts. In "Evening Primrose," for example, a young poet who is unable to earn a living with his creative writing poses as a mannequin in a department store during store hours and then lives in leisure and luxury after closing time. In "Green Thoughts," a horticulturist is devoured by one of his plants and becomes one of its blossoms while still retaining his consciousness.
There's no difference at all between them. But as the old man is effectively peddling death, he can't come right out and call what he's selling by its proper name; he can't say "Here's some poison you can use to kill your wife." The glove-cleaner will be a "life-cleaner" in that it will miraculously get rid of what will eventually be the biggest problem of Alan's life—a cloying, needy wife who won't give him a moment's peace.
Using such a euphemism doesn't just allow the old man to cover up his crimes; it also allows him to give the impression that he's just offering a perfectly normal service that will help solve a problem. It's as if he's selling a revolutionary new cleaning product on a TV infomercial, one that will quickly remove all those stubborn stains. If "The Chaser" illustrates one thing, it's the way in which language can be so easily distorted and abused to justify evil acts.