Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dare’s Gift” is a classic example of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century American supernatural mystery story, with many of that genre’s themes and conventions clearly highlighted. It is similar to Charlotte Glaspell’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” one of the most famous treatments of the theme of a woman taken to a country home after suffering a nervous breakdown and then being emotionally affected by some supernatural or psychological event there. Similar stories of an invisible presence, with a quasi-scientific explanation, were also written during the late nineteenth century by Guy de Maupassant and Ambrose Bierce.

Another thematic convention of the story is to have the story-within-the-story told by an old doctor, for old men since biblical times have seen visions and a doctor can provide a quasi-scientific explanation for the strange effect of the house. When the narrator asks if the house is haunted, the doctor says it is “saturated with a thought . . . haunted by treachery.” Although an act ends, the doctor argues, the idea of the act is immortal. The treacherous event that has affected the lawyer’s wife took place fifty years earlier, but the thought of it still lives and inhabits the cracks, crevices, and masonry of the house. The doctor theorizes that the multiple impressions and thoughts that have taken place in the house in the past perhaps have created a current of thought, a mental atmosphere with a powerful force of suggestion....

(The entire section is 468 words.)