Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In its broadest sense, the theme of “The Bambino” is the artist-observer’s capacity to see the truth more clearly than do the participants in a particular situation. This generalization is supported by May Sinclair’s use of Simpson as the narrator of this and a number of the other stories collected in Tales Told by Simpson (1930). Simpson and Frances Archdale, both of them painters, arrive at the insights concerning Jack and Adela with which the story ends; indeed, the entire story hangs on Simpson’s assumption that the pose that Adela and the Bambino take in Frances’s portrait provides a key to understanding the Archdales’ situation.

The emphasis on the psychology of Jack Archdale is characteristic of Sinclair’s novels and stories. She has a nearly scientific interest in the interplay of biological heredity and environment in the development of human personality. This is seen in Jack Archdale, the man who married a woman who was an art object and whose son becomes in time “like a porcelain idol, doing nothing but wag his head.” One of the ironies at work in “The Bambino” is the fact that Jack gets exactly the wife and son his aesthetic taste craves, and then learns how life-denying aestheticism is. Sinclair’s treatment of psychology is less complex in “The Bambino” than in The Three Sisters (1914), Mary Olivier: A Life (1919), and Life and Death of Hariett Frean (1922), novels written at approximately the same time she was working on the Simpson stories. All three novels discuss the relationship of child and adult; like the protagonists of the novels, the Bambino is shaped by factors of heredity and environment beyond his control.