Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The underlying theme of the story is the loss of innocence, a “fall” from an earlier state of purity. It is a tale of paradise lost. The state of innocence is symbolized by the evening at the Ritz that the two couples spent together in 1961, fifteen years before the party at the Ryders’ home. Their recollections of the occasion emphasize its innocence and spontaneity. All four of them were happy and carefree; Malcolm was at the peak of his rugby career, Gavin was on the brink of a breakthrough in television, and the two women felt themselves to be physically attractive, pleased to be spending such an extravagant evening in such a happy group of friends. For Polly, it was the nicest thing that ever happened to her. Everything then was genuine, untouched by jealousy or impure motives; love and affection were freely given between friends. The subject of swapping partners could never have come up.

They all instantly remember the evening at the Ritz when they hear the song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which tells of an enchantingly perfect evening spent by lovers in London’s Mayfair district. The song includes the line, “There were angels dining at the Ritz.” Those four young people were angels then, but time has transformed them into fallen angels. It is Sue who jokingly asks the question about whether they have fallen since that famous night at the Ritz. She does not mean the question to be taken seriously, but as Gavin and Polly...

(The entire section is 435 words.)