Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

The plight of the "invisible servant" is the main theme, although there are others. One minor theme is "the woman wronged," an old theme in literature in which a woman who has been mistreated seeks revenge against her oppressors or, instead, shows herself to be truly noble by rising above her suffering. Mark Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) has a fine example of a woman's revenge, whereas Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850; see separate entry) has perhaps the supreme example of a woman rising above her suffering and her tormentors. In the present case, Lillian believes herself wronged by society and takes her revenge by poisoning the men who do not appreciate her.

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Another minor theme is that of lonely women. "Oh, you know how it is," the Countess Condazzi explains. "There are so many women in their fifties and sixties who are unattached, but there are so few men." An unattached, wealthy, socially prominent man is special; in Florida, says the countess, women would flock to Shipman. This is an important clue; if we are to solve the mystery, we need to understand this social context: a culture which makes an older man of interest only because he is unattached. Lillian is mad with loneliness; the countess may be lonely, too. What is a traditional homemaker to do in a world where her skills are no longer valued? The novelette does not answer this complex question, but it raises it and makes it part of the mystery.

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