Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493
Nomey tells Beth that marriage means being loyal, but if Casey ever hits her, then that loyalty is nullified. Also, if he stays away from home too long, Beth can consider herself free to wander, so to speak, too. In other words, if the husband isn't faithful, then the wife does not have to be either. However, the wife has to be "more careful" than the husband because
That sort of thing was harder for women than men. Nomey chuckled then and said that most things were, and that's why women were smarter than men.
Gender-based double standards make it socially acceptable for men to do things that are less socially acceptable when done by women, such as cheating on their spouses. If a husband cheats on his wife, as Nomey suggests, then the wife can cheat too; however, the wife has to be more careful because society would frown upon her actions much more than it would on her husband's. Loyalty and fidelity have long been considered more important in the female partner than the male.
Female ingenuity and intelligence are prominent in the story, and Offutt seems to suggest that women are oftentimes more capable and intelligent than their husbands. Casey, Beth's husband, is sort of hapless, always doing things that result in trouble for himself and others, and he is easily led around by the various women in the story. Lil tries to seduce him and he must be rescued by Beth; he made an odd joke as a child that resulted in the deaths of his first two wives, and, again, he must be rescued by Beth and her mother. Though Casey views himself as the protector who is in control, it is clearly Beth who fills this role.
Power and Manipulation
The story seems to suggest that men are easily manipulated, especially when sex is involved, and that women can use sex to gain power over men. Casey is unable to fend off Lil's advances on his own and must instead rely on his wife to free him from her attempted seductions. He has sex with Granny Lith in order to break his vow to her, but Beth is the one in control of the action as she is the one who encourages Casey to sleep with Granny Lith. Finally, Beth restores order in their relationship by enticing Casey to have sex with her. "She lifted her knees to guide him with her thighs," guiding him literally, physically, and emotionally back to her.
The idea of sex as a means of gaining power over men is reinforced by the connections between Lil, Granny Lith, and the mythological Lilith, an overtly sexual woman who steals babies and uses her charms to lead weak men astray. Offutt's story implies that the only way to combat such a temptress is for a strong, capable wife to take control of her husband and safeguard her family from the natural weakness of men.