(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“An Interest in Life” holds nothing of the bizarre or extraordinary: It is a story about an ordinary woman named Virginia, her ordinary children, and the ordinary problems she faces making ends meet and finding happiness and love in an imperfect world.

The story begins as Virginia’s husband deserts her, ostensibly to join the Army, after giving her a broom and dustpan for Christmas. The gift is not a kind one; the relations between Virginia and her husband have been bitter and sarcastic. Once he departs, Virginia begins adjusting to the life of a single twenty-six-year-old woman raising four young children—dealing not only with social service agencies, schools, and bills, but also with loneliness, anger, and the lingering mystery of where her husband went and whether he will ever return.

Into Virginia’s misery and bitterness comes John Raftery, the married son of her widowed neighbor, as if, it seems, to “rescue” her. John offers her his devotion and comfort, but Virginia is hesitant to accept it fully. Still, he comes to see her faithfully every Thursday night, and his openheartedness and lightness of spirit bring life into her home, effecting subtle changes in the children’s and Virginia’s outlooks. In the comfort of John’s undemanding affection, she recalls the wildness of her passion for her husband and their tumultuous marriage, poisoned by his arrogance and cruelty, culminating in the broom and the desertion.

Then one Thursday, suddenly, without explanation, John stops coming. After two weeks’ absence, Virginia abandons hope of his return. Dejected, she decides to go on a television game show called “Strike it Rich” and makes the requisite list of personal troubles. “The...

(The entire section is 712 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The plot is quite simple: “An Interest in Life” offers a first-person account of a young woman, Virginia, who is deserted by her husband shortly before Christmas. Thanks to the advice of her downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Raftery, rent and food money from the Welfare Department, the amorous attentions of Mrs. Raftery’s son, John, and her own sense of humor, Virginia and her four children manage quite well without her husband.

The husband’s parting gifts are a new broom and a passionate, mean kiss intended to let her know what she will be missing. With only fourteen dollars and the rent unpaid, Virginia turns for help to her downstairs neighbor. Mrs. Raftery’s advice: Tell Welfare, the grocer, and the cops, who will provide toys for the kids, and look around for comfort; “With a nervous finger she pointed to the truckers eating lunch on their haunches across the street. . . . She waved her hand to include all the men marching up and down in search of a decent luncheonette. She didn’t leave out the six longshoremen loafing under the fish-market marquee.” The tone is set; the story continues in this earthy and ironic vein as Virginia’s tough-kid humor and self-mockery protect her against self-pity.

One night, Mrs. Raftery advises her son to visit his old friend, Virginia. Soon he comes regularly, bringing presents for the kids and even offering to do the dishes. He takes a special interest in Girard, Virginia’s most difficult child; he gives him an erector set, signs him up for...

(The entire section is 620 words.)