What is the theme of "The Demon Lover"?

The theme of this story is the impossibility of escaping one's past.

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One could argue that the overriding theme of the story is the impossibility of escaping one's past. That's what Katherine has tried to do ever since a former lover of hers died during World War I. Yet the sudden, shocking appearance of this long dead paramour in spirit form has...

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One could argue that the overriding theme of the story is the impossibility of escaping one's past. That's what Katherine has tried to do ever since a former lover of hers died during World War I. Yet the sudden, shocking appearance of this long dead paramour in spirit form has put paid to her attempts to move on with her life.

The message seems to be that the past will always come back to haunt us sooner or later unless we come to terms with it. One senses, then, that Katherine has never really been able to do that, for one reason or another. Perhaps she'd forgotten about her lover after all these years. Or perhaps she'd never had the chance to grieve over her loss. Whatever the reason, Katherine's past is now as real to her as her present, with truly terrifying consequences.

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In "The Demon Lover," Bowen explores the theme of war. Specifically, the story highlights the effects of war on both the combatants and the civilians.

When the story opens, for example, the reader learns that Mrs. Drover and her family have been forced to leave their London home because of the threat of bombs. War has, therefore, caused massive disruption to the family's lives, forcing them to move to the country in order to avoid danger. This disruption to normal life is also reflected in the condition of the house when she returns to London. There is a "bruise" on the wall from the movement of furniture, for example, and a "ring" left behind from an old vase. Bowen's use of imagery here shows us that the house has experienced its own sense of disruption and loss, just like Mrs. Drover's family.

In addition, Bowen explores the effects of war through Mrs. Drover's relationship with the soldier in World War One. Their relationship, for example, was brought to an abrupt end as a result of the fighting. Mrs. Drover was not only separated from her lover as a result of the war, he was also reported missing and was likely killed. War, therefore, caused a huge upheaval in her life, as well as a sense of uncertainty and the death of an innocent soldier.

As a result of the soldier's death, Mrs. Drover was forced to seek a new relationship. Eventually, she married another man and created a new life with him. Through these events, then, Bowen reinforces this idea that war causes huge disruption and loss to those who experience it.

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     The theme of the story is not as potent as many other works.  Although WWI and WWII play an important part in the story, the theme really revolves around our hidden pasts and how they can return to haunt us.

     In the story, Mrs. Dover promises herself to a young man during the first World War but he does not return.  She is forced to find a life for herself with her new family, although she is never quite happy or content with her past because of her mysterious promise.

     After returning to the house she finds the letter which reminds her of the past.  This implies that our pasts have a way of turning up where we least expect it.  It also hints that the past will return no matter how we might try to bury it in memory and life without acknowledging it.

     Finally, the mysterious taxi cab driver takes off with Mrs. Dover terrified.  Once again the past has caught up to the present.

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