(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The father in “Color of Darkness” is disconcerted because he cannot remember the color of his wife’s eyes. She left him and their son, Baxter, some years back, and her features have almost entirely slipped from his memory. Eager for his father’s attention, the child stays as close to him as possible and attempts to draw him into conversation. The father’s work requires that he be absent most of the time; even when at home, however, he seems to be psychologically absent. The housekeeper, Mrs. Zilke, is not an adequate replacement for Baxter’s mother; indeed, she is more a mother figure for the father than for his son. To the father, Mrs. Zilke appears as a repository of wisdom, as someone secure in her relationship to the world about her, as someone for whom the world was “round, firm, and perfectly illuminated,” as it was not for him. His world is as amorphous, unstable, and hazy as the pipe smoke that swirls around his head. His inability to remember the color of his wife’s eyes reflects not only his lack of connection with her but also his inability to achieve any vital emotional connection with anybody. He soon realizes that he cannot remember the color of Baxter’s eyes, either.

When Mrs. Zilke tells the father that Baxter is lonely, he confides to Mrs. Zilke that he does not know children, that he does not know what they know, so he does not know how to talk to them. She reassures him that because he is a success at work, it is not necessary that he worry about anything else. In effect, Mrs. Zilke mouths the platitudes of society that...

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