Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In early Aztec society, a ceremony was performed each year to honor the goddess of grain. A young virgin selected from the group became the embodiment of the grain goddess; her reign was brief, however. After a short period of ritual fasting and prayer, the young girl was sacrificed to the goddess, her skin was flayed, her blood sprinkled on the crops, and then the priest who performed the ritual would wear her skin. John L’Heureux offers a similarly gruesome tale in “The Anatomy of Desire,” but his story is perhaps even more unsettling than the Aztec ritual because it begins and ends not with purification and hope but with absurdity and despair.

Hanley is flayed because of some soldiers’ absurd notion of duty. Soldiers loyal to the general come across the sleeping Hanley and make an example of him. He is accused of being an infiltrator, but it is clear that he is dragged across the arbitrary demarcation line by the soldiers; he has infiltrated nothing. He is simply a random victim of war, a war whose origin and purpose are never shared with the reader. His sacrifice is related to no larger myths of the society, no purpose.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan has said that “what is desired is always displaced, always deferred, and reappears endlessly in another guise.” L’Heureux’s male characters, especially Hanley, seem to reflect Lacan’s belief. Happiness and contentment are absent in the story because, as the nurse...

(The entire section is 442 words.)