Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321
In one respect, the relations between the three characters in this short story—two men and one woman—constitutes a classic love triangle; here, however, Bertie's androgynous tendencies, which Isabel disparages, ensures that the patriarchal conflict is not for Isabel's romantic regard. Instead, this is a tug-of-war for Isabel's attention and emotional commitment. Until Bertie's arrival, Maurice—because of the pressures placed on him by his wound—has occupied Isabel's full emotional attention. However, his lack of energy and vibrancy in conversation, which troubles Isabel during his bouts of depression, means that Bertie's arrival displaces Maurice somewhat. Bertie dominates the conversation, and Maurice ultimately retreats to his beloved barn.
However, once Bertie follows Maurice out of the firelight and into the natural world with which Maurice is so familiar, their dynamics shift. The short story's climactic exchange, in which Maurice touches his rival's face, causes Bertie to surrender his battle for Isabel's attentions and resolve simply to escape from the situation as soon as he can.
Ultimately, this work deals with the contrast of two lifestyles—and two men ideally made for those lifestyles. Bertie, a man of the city, so comfortable in his dealings with worldly affairs, is out of his element when he steps into the world of the spiritual and the primal, wherein Maurice is in his element. This is a world of darkness, where touch is the only means of knowing and understanding; Bertie's world, conversely, is one of light, where seeing is the best way of relating to life from day to day. For Maurice (whose primary concern in the story has been his capacity as an injured man to be a husband and father), his victory over Bertie by means of intimacy demonstrates his capacity in these two roles. For Isabel, the reconciliation of her husband and her friend symbolizes balance and fulfillment, in that she can now have all of her emotional needs satisfied.