Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of this brilliantly rendered short-short story is not immediately obvious, but after a few readings it becomes clear. Time as destructive duration—J. Alfred Prufrock’s old enemy—is making itself felt in the lives of these two aging homosexual men. The crisis of aging and their need to preserve the best of the past have become almost daily preoccupations for both of them, as they see themselves and their world swamped by decline and decay. Their valuable stamp collection becomes more than a mere hobby; it becomes a vivid symbol of their need to preserve the values of their youth unsullied by the degenerating effects of a mindlessly changing materialistic world. Their growing dissatisfaction with each other and an alien world seems to find temporary relief in their discovery of a rare and expensive dead-letter stamp of Queen Victoria in her widows’ weeds—the Black Queen of the title.

The figure of Queen Victoria in mourning becomes an apt metaphor for their waning relationship, which has been based on their mutual attempts to preserve their youth, their almost-Victorian lifestyle, and their value system. As the Victorian era was swept away and replaced by a prevailing philistinism, so too has time and their seedy neighborhood deepened their sense of redundancy. As McCrae stares into the kitchen window, stuffing the same old roast pork and preparing the raw vegetables and homemade dip, he decides that things must change, the old musty...

(The entire section is 441 words.)