Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James’s life, both private and professional, was rather limited in its own way. He had little to do with the lower strata of society. On occasion, however, he could do dramatic justice to a woman such as the telegraphist, whose position in London life is both lowly and uneventful. To that end, two of James’s standard themes surface in this tale: the need to take advantage of life, or, to use different words, to live all that one can; and the reductive power of leading a life of renunciation. At first these themes might seem to be antithetical, at odds with each other. They are—but they are both present within the life of the protagonist. She is the embodiment of both themes as she embraces Everard figuratively and pursues him literally. Indeed, the telegraphist is one of those well-known James characters who is eager to live pleasurably in an imagined world, while at the same time, and without regret, she is happy to set aside her life in the real world.

More specifically, these themes coalesce in the life of the protagonist as she lives all she can in her fantasized relationship with Everard; unfortunately, she is at the same time forfeiting the potential in her own young life by giving Everard many months of selfless servitude at Cocker’s. In time, her imagination becomes the controlling factor in the calculus of her life: For her, nothing is more genuine and central in her day-to-day existence than the Everard interlude. In fact, there is every...

(The entire section is 410 words.)