Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Different cultural attitudes about sexuality provide the central theme of this story. A key point in the story occurs when Françoise tells her husband about the self-conscious way the Irish men change into their bathing suits under a towel and how they look at her almost angrily, and he responds, “You don’t understand.” Indeed the key issue of the story is what there is to understand about the male Irish attitude toward sexuality. Part of what there is to understand is the fact that the Irish men—a friendly, fatherly man and a clerk with goggles—do not really welcome a woman on the beach. The reference to the Forty Foot, a bathing place “for men only” where men bath in the nude at all times of the year, suggests this gender difference. The Forty Foot has become a point of contention about Irish attitudes toward sexuality, and women have tried to crash the area and swim there in spite of male protests.

The other central point in the story occurs when Françoise’s husband tells her she is an “occasion for sin.” She recalls an occasion a few nights earlier when one of her husband’s friends solemnly told her that sex was the worst sin because it was the most pleasant. Another of his friends had gripped her arm once while crossing the street and told her to be careful. When she says he was also in danger, he says he is not worried about himself, for he is in the state of sanctifying grace. She encounters the same sort of...

(The entire section is 455 words.)