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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is a story of hauntings, prosaic and profound. Locked inside his dismal room, Art Woo is comically haunted by horror-film images of invasion and physical assault. Ironically, while he projects these imaginary external threats on this hotel populated by mothers and children, the workings of his mind reveal he is suffering very real inner assaults of memory, inner deaths of love and hope. Art is haunted by images of his wife who left him because he was unable to comprehend her grief or feel his own grief at the loss of their unborn child to brittle bone disease. At the end of the story, Art is also haunted, dimly, and most poignantly, by the shadowy image of that fetus, his lost opportunity for fatherhood.

In his professional life as an employee of a dying minicomputer business, Art is haunted by the racial humiliations inflicted on him by his violent and crude boss and by the taunts of chauvinistic colleagues who exclude and disparage him. Ever the outsider as a Chinese American, Art silently envies the apparent power and ease of those around him. Indeed, the narrator reveals that Art’s professional life, like his personal life, has been deficient in affect and action. He does not rage at the boss who injures him. He does not quit. He pragmatically uses the injury to passively extort a promotion. Failing to feel and failing to act when his child died, insisting on pragmatic acceptance and continuance of the fertility treatments, Art passively alienates his own grieving wife.

On this trip, Art again fails to take action. Instead of leaving immediately, Art moves into the humiliation and isolation of the squalid hotel. There, locked...

(The entire section is 431 words.)