This book is a story about two women trying to find happiness and success in the world they live in. That world is not pleasant. It is filled with injustice, poverty, and abuse. Discrimination, between classes and sexes, runs rampant. Flo and Rose, particularly Rose, must realize that she does not have to be held back by that world. She must make the world her own. She starts to do this through acting, making a different life for herself. Finally, she understands that she must take her own life for what it is and make the most of it.
The abusive father, insensitive husband, and the numerous portrayals of the violence of men throughout the story are done to alienate Rose. The setting - Ireland in the early 1970s - is not kind to woman. They are still held to different social standards than men and still have a harder time getting ahead than men. Socially, women are lower. Munro makes all the men "evil" in order to highlight this truth and show that it is one of the things that Rose must choose to live with, not run from.