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The short story centers around a seventeen-year-old girl obsessed with cleanliness. The tone of the work is belittling in nature where the narrator, Lorna, speaks of people she deems unclean. The overall mood of the work is arrogant and naive. Lorna is shocked at everyday actions or ways of keeping house to which she is not accustomed.
Lorna is overly critical of almost everyone in the narration, despite her lack of social standing. Her obsession with cleanliness forces her to view everyone and everything through a single lens. This makes her a very flat character who does not experience any growth in the story. Her arrogance is demonstrated on numerous occasions, including when she foregoes grammar school, a higher school, because it is not as new as the modern secondary school she attended. She criticized several of her employers before leaving her position based on few actual insults that she nevertheless perceived. The end of the story highlights Lorna's arrogance. During her brief affair with Willy the artist she admits she likes him in a way. He also takes care of her, gives her gifts and he comes from a good family with some wealth. However, despite these positives she cannot move past his untidy ways and claims she cannot stoop so low as to marry him.
Lorna continually belittles other people and their habits when she deems them to be either unclean or acting beneath their station in life. She is appalled at how Dr. and Mrs. Darby raise their children. Lorna believes even play clothes should be new and clean. She disparages Mrs. Darby for sending her kids out in what Lorna deems improper clothes. She also chides Dr. Darby's mother for staying in her quaint cottage. Lorna is unable to understand why she would not want to move to another place and is surprised Dr. Darby allows his mother to live there. These are examples of how little Lorna understands about the world and how she demonstrates her lack of empathy toward anyone. In another scene, she is dating a young man she finds attractive but ends the relationship because he can only bathe once per week in hot water. This is the only reason she finds him unclean, but her arrogance will not allow her to be involved with someone who cannot provide for the "extra little things" to which she is accustomed.
The story is a warning about how obsession of any kind can ultimately harm a person, regardless of how it is perceived morally. At the same time it is also a warning that obsession can lead to arrogance because it shifts the focus of evaluation from fair to a biased point of view. In this manner it is a cautionary tale to be mindful of how we interact with the world.
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