Beattie maintains that her work is about chaos. In those terms Charles is controlling the disillusionment of his life and times by engaging in a romantic quest. Chaos is the consequence of over expectations created by too much personal freedom and not enough historical awareness, stereotyped characteristics of the members of the 1960s generation. Charles has never really wanted anything until he wants Laura. In the 1970s his cohorts have lost all sense of common purpose and have few traditional ambitions, but love is still a worthy goal. Once it is achieved, however, the need for freedom asserts itself, and therefore Chilly Scenes of Winter ends on an inconclusive note, despite the fact that Charles does win Laura.
Two symptoms of underlying chaos are dislocation and displacement. The idea that these are inevitable consequences of the Baby Boom generation's roller coaster ride through the 1960s is one of Beattie's recurring themes. In Distortions (1976), for instance, a wife in "Four Stories about Lovers" no longer talks to her husband but gets up from beside him late at night to mail him letters. In "A Vintage Thunderbird" from Secrets and Surprises (1978), her second collection, the commitments made to lovers and friends are as superficial as the emotional affection projected to an automobile. Charles, Sam, and Laura in Chilly Scenes of Winter all have a sense of living in a media- saturated world where everything is of equal value. Charles manages in his bewildered way to shake off his inertia and passivity to pursue Laura, but even his romantic quest is curiously resigned to antic melancholy.