One major theme in this story is that of female oppression. Mabel Pervin, a young rural working-class woman, appears isolated in the midst of her own family. She has kept house for her three brothers for many years, but they seem to have scant regard for her, while she, in turn, has become indifferent to them.
They had talked at her and round her for so many years, that she hardly heard them at all.
Mabel’s family life, then, appears quite cold and unloving. There is further evidence of this in the way that her brothers habitually address her, calling her ‘the sulkiest bitch that ever trod,’ and so on.
When the family fortunes finally crash beyond all point of recovery the three brothers do not seem as adversely affected as Mabel does. Unlike them, she is left with literally no place to go. She cannot easily get a job, she has no education, there is no place for her in society as a single and penniless woman. While her brothers are also affected by poverty, she is doubly handicapped in being both impoverished and female. The only way out that she can see is suicide – although she is foiled in this.
Another theme is that of the divisions between social classes. Jack Ferguson, the doctor, a man of education, relatively well-off, can barely comprehend the lives of the working class, families like the Pervins who appear to him 'inarticulate', without intellect, almost animal-like. Yet contact with them stimulates him, and he finally breaks through class barriers completely when he falls in love with Mabel. However, in doing do he has to let go of his more refined, socially-cultivated self, and instead give way to his passion and instincts, which normally in his social circles he cannot do.
A third theme of the story is that of rebirth. Both Ferguson and Mabel find new life in loving one another. They have both been leading a repressed existence; Ferguson until now has had to suppress his natural instincts and emotions, while Mabel, as already discussed, has had no place of her own in the world.