Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Aunt’s Story is a psychological narrative which relies on symbolic objects to reveal Theodora’s fluctuating states of mind. An exotic filigree ball that Mrs. Goodman brings back from a trip to India fascinates Theodora and Lou because the subtle, flickering fire contained within suggests to them the shape of the human soul. A hawk that Theodora once identifies with she later kills in order to prove herself a better shot than Frank Parrott; the death of the fiercely independent bird echoes the loss of innocence in Theodora. A rose with a grub at its center seems to Theodora to embody her own situation; it teaches her the proximity of ugliness and beauty, and the necessity for both. The nautilus she purloins from covetous Elsie Rapallo shows Theodora that all is transient and, therefore, that nothing can ever be fully possessed by anyone. The relation of objects to character illuminates both indirectly.

The principal themes of The Aunt’s Story remain abiding concerns throughout White’s work. According to him, each individual is composed of numerous personas: male and female, physical and spiritual, desirable and detestable. Theodora comes to understand the wisdom of accepting and playing all the conflicting parts. She recognizes that one’s self always hangs between disparate poles of existence, such as life and death, good and evil, matter and spirit, and, more important, that it is the tension between them that provides the...

(The entire section is 482 words.)