In Sinclair Ross's story, "The Painted Door," life on the prairie is never dull. The characters may be bored and lonely, but the reader will find their story intriguing.
This story is told in third person limited omniscient point of view. Through the protagonist's thoughts the story finds shape. The setting is a harsh winter probably in the early twentieth century. Ross's prose includes little dialogue but ample description.
The three characters in the story are interwined because of the isolation of the prairie life. Ann and John have been married for seven years. John, a loving, loyal husband, admittedly is slow and unambitious. He is proud of his wife Ann, who is attractive, but married to a man that has few of the qualities that she admires. On this day, she spends her time painting the door frames to pass the time. The other character is the neighbor Steven, who is everything that John is not: handsome, well-groomed and spirited.
The story's events lead to Ann's seduction by Steven as she waits for her husband to return from his father's farm five miles away. There is a terrible blizzard raging. Ann wants her husband to come home: however, it is extremely dangerous to try. When Steven, arrives to spend the evening, Ann feels a passion that she has not felt before.
After giving in to her desires, Ann recognizes Steven's lack of guilt for betraying his friend and his superficiality in contrast to John's devotion.
Now, Ann understands:
John was the man. With him, lay all the future. For tonight, slowly and contritely through the days and years to come, she would make amends.
Ann's repentance comes too late. The stunning finale tells the reader and Ann that she must bear the consequences of her weakness.
In this story, the primary conflict is psychological. Ann struggles within herself about her feelings for John. The guilt that she feels for her moment of lust leads to a life altering event for the couple. When Steven comes, Ann feels an arousal and a longing for intimacy. As Steven and Ann play the game of sexual attraction, the events are set in place to lead Ann down the path of guilt and remorse. Steven does not feel it. His night with Ann happened and so what. To further Ann's inner turmoil, she realizes that she really loves John:
Clutched by the thought, she stood rooted a minute...how she could have so deceived herself---John was the man.
Ann feels the dream of John bending over her and retreating back with grief. This soul stirring conflict takes Ann from isolated wife to guilty adultress.
Other conflicts in the story add to the story's drama. Certainly, man struggles against the forces of nature. The blizzard holds a nightmarish effect on the characters.
For so fierce now, so insane and dominant did the blizzard seem, that she could not credit the safety of the house.
This was not just nature, but the storm of deception and grief that John encounters when he finds his way home.
Ann struggles against the circumstances that life has dealt her. The isolation creates her disgruntled attitude toward her husband:
It was the silence weighing on her--the frozen silence of the bitter field and sun-chilled sky.
Sadly, John is found frozen about a mile from the house. Ann discovers that it had not been a dream that John was there. On his frozen hand, she finds a smear of the paint from the door.