(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Powell aims to capture the mores of a particular time and place and poke gentle fun at them. Her particular concern is the way in which men and women perceive and treat one another, emphasizing the influences of physical appearances, social class, financial resources, and degrees of sophistication. Powell satirizes the materialism of men in the opening pages with Jay telling Lou that he has paid $4.50 for his socks, indicating that socks so expensive must be of the best quality and a symbol of his status in the business world. Throughout Angels on Toast, money and what it buys are of concrete importance to men but mainly an abstraction for women.

Money affects the physical appearances that mean so much to Jay and Lou. While extra weight is a sign of a woman’s decline, for Lou gaining ten pounds earns him additional authority. Lou exerts this authority with his quick thinking to save Jay from the embarrassment of being caught by his wife with his mistress, but most important is how his action lets him admire himself: “He felt a little fonder of Jay . . . for permitting him to give this faultless exhibition of sterling male friendship.”

Powell’s men seek instant gratification with little or no thought for the moral implications of their actions, whether regarding business or sex. Only her women are perceptive enough to see the phoniness inherent in such behavior, as with Ebie’s resentment of “[d]oing anything they pleased on the side but keeping up the great marriage front.” Even though she is the other woman, the hypocrisy of this double standard makes her uneasy and contributes to her questioning of the way in which she conducts her life.

Powell’s men constantly justify their behavior. A hotel manager named Pritchard tells Lou, “Nobody has their conscience around much away from home. It’s like a garage. It ought to be handy to your house.” Ebie is not the only one disturbed by such lack of responsibility. Miss Frye, Lou’s loyal secretary, reprimands him for his...

(The entire section is 829 words.)